• Joe Breitfeller

Inside the Race for Electric & Hybrid-Electric Passenger Aircraft

The race is on to be first to market with a commercially viable hybrid-electric or all electric passenger aircraft. No fewer than a half-dozen firms, each with a different approach are looking to revolutionize civilian and regional commercial aviation.

Image Courtesy of Zunum Aero

From what we understand, manufacturers are taking three different approaches as they incorporate electric powerplants into their airframes. The first is an all-electric approach on a new airframe, the second a hybrid-electric approach on a new airframe and the third, adding hybrid-electric to an existing aircraft model. For electric purists, the first company we will discuss is Eviation, based in Israel. The Eviation Alice is a nine passenger all-electric aircraft powered by three “pusher” style propellers, one each on the tail and wingtips. At the Paris Air Show last June, the $4M aircraft model made quite a splash, with the company securing several orders, including one from Hyannis, Massachusetts based Cape Air. According to Eviation, the nine passenger Alice (plus two crewmembers) will be able to fly 650 miles at a cruise speed of 240 knots. The all composite aircraft is designed to be comfortable, economical and quiet. With zero emissions, it will also be one of the most environmentally friendly aircraft in the skies. The passenger configuration was selected in order to comply with the Federal Aviation Administration’s Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) Part 23 for commuter and on-demand operations.

Airbus E-Fan X, Image Courtesy Airbus

Next is the Zunum Aero ZA10, a “hybrid-to-electric” aircraft program funded by Boeing HorizonX, JetBlue Technology Ventures and the State of Washington Clean Energy Fund. Zunum plans on developing a family of regional aircraft with a range of up to 1,000 miles. The launch aircraft, the ZA10 is a 12-passenger aircraft set for delivery in the early 2020s. According to the company, the ZA10 will have a range of 700 miles, a maximum cruise speed of 340 miles per hour and an 80% reduction in noise and emissions, when compared to other aircraft in the same class. The hybrid-to-electric concept is designed to reduce fuel consumption today, while leveraging new and emerging battery technologies, leading to less and less reliance on fossil fuel. In a May 2018 press release, Zunum Aero announced that JetSuite would be the launch customer for the ZA10, adding up to 100 of the type to their fleet. Last October, the company announced that they had partnered with Safran Helicopter Engines to supply the engine turbine to drive the electrical generator on the ZA10. Ground and flight testing are currently taking place on a modified Rockwell Turbo Commander 840, being utilized as a “testbed” aircraft.

Airbus is also developing a hybrid-electric demonstrator called the E-Fan X, scheduled to take flight in 2021. The E-Fan X demonstrator will have four engines, where one engine will be replaced by a 2MW electric motor. During periods of high-power requirements, such as takeoff, the generator and batteries will both supply power. Another company working on a hybrid-electric is Wright Electric, which has partnered with European low-cost-carrier (LCC) easyJet to develop a 9 passenger hybrid aircraft.

DeHavilland Dash 8 Q400, Image Courtesy DeHavilland Aircraft of Canada, LTD.

The third approach involves re-imagining the powerplant design on currently available commuter aircraft by adding new battery technology. Currently United Technologies (UTC) is working on a design called “Project 804,” which will add a 2 MW hybrid propulsion system to a Bombardier Dash 8 Series Q100. (The latest derivative program, the Dash 8 Q400 is now owned by DeHavilland Aircraft of Canada Ltd.). One side of the test platform aircraft dubbed the “X-Plane” will have a 2MW propulsion system that combines an engine with a similarly sized electric motor which will provide additional takeoff power. UTC expects a fuel savings of around 30% and plans on flight testing by 2022.

Source(s): Eviation, Zunum Aero, Airbus, United Technologies, DeHavilland Canada