Three European tech giants have announced a joint effort to develop a demo version of an electric commercial aircraft. The aircraft, tentatively titled E-Fan X, will be based on the BAE Systems 146 and is expected to take off by 2020. The technology is not revolutionary, but fundamental - engineers want to see how an aircraft with a hybrid electric-jet propulsion system will behave.
The EU's forward-looking plan, Flightpath 2050 Vision for Aviation, leaves no choice for either engineers or investors. It is impossible to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 75%, nitrous oxide by 90% and reduce noise by 65% over several decades without abandoning the internal combustion engine and switching to electric motors. Everywhere, including aviation - but for large, commercial aircraft this is not yet possible.
The aim of the consortium Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Siemens is to test the concept of a hybrid transport. At first, the E-Fan X will have a 2-megawatt electric motor from Siemens in only one of the four nacelles. It will be powered by a generator based on a Rolls-Royce gas turbine engine, and Airbus was tasked with integrating all of this into the design of the aircraft. As well as setting up control systems.
Engineers do not hide that the experience of small aircraft with electric motors is unlikely to help them much. In fact, we are talking about one big experiment - how an electric motor of such power will behave on a large aircraft, how convenient, reliable and profitable it is at all. Hopes are pinned on intelligent control systems, while the management of the companies does not hide that they would like to create a basis, lay down new standards. Which will greatly help them occupy this market in the future.