Tuesday 26 February 2013, Amsterdam
Electric aircraft are an idea whose time has come. Electrically propelled manned aircraft are selling profitably today in small numbers. They take the form of pure electric fixed wing microlights and motorised hang gliders. At the other extreme, airliners that have electric nosewheels have arrived making them electric vehicles when on the ground, hugely reducing noise and air pollution and making them independent of tugs. Yet that is only the beginning and the story is now rapidly unfolding across the whole industry – with Europe often in the lead. Europeans flew a two-seater fuel cell aircraft, a pure electric stunt plane and a manned hybrid electric aircraft with a Wankel engine in recent years.
2011 saw the world’s first pure electric helicopter fly in France and then the world’s first pure electric multi-rotor volocopter fly in Germany. 2012 saw the world’s first pure electric flying boat in the air in Finland, a fun product, now being sold as a "flying jet ski". A saleable amphibian, hybrid electric aircraft has been seen in the air over Norway and it is now being readied for production. UK organisations are helping Boeing to make a fixed wing unmanned aircraft that stays aloft for five years, the airframe and ultra-lightweight motors having lessons for manned aircraft design.
Harvesting electricity aloft
A European manned solar aircraft has flown intercontinentally on sunshine alone. Now one is being made in Europe to circumnavigate the globe on sunshine alone. Regenerative soaring is a reality and that is leading to work on capturing wind energy aloft and beaming it to earth. No, that does not break the laws of physics. Solar powered electric airships are being developed in Europe and the USA.
Conventional helicopters become safer
In Europe, there is much work on hybrid helicopters starting with adding electric powertrains to conventional helicopters so they execute a controlled landing when the transmission fails – the electric vehicle as a parachute if you will. In addition there is much work on hybrid helicopters that can take off and land silently in all-electric mode. Aircraft design will never be the same again after the pressure to perform previously impossible missions, save the planet, reduce local noise, air and land pollution and reduce dependency on foreign oil.
In short, the electrification of manned aircraft is transforming the whole industry and now there is a new IDTechEx report specifically on this with one on unmanned electric aircraft soon to follow. The reports give market size, timelines, company profiles, analysis of the many new components being used and when others will be viable and much more.
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