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January 15, 2019

Expect Electric Aircraft at Major Airports by 2030

Designed by Austrians Fred Militky and Heino Brditschka and first taking flight in 1973, the Militky MB-E1 is considered the world’s first electric aircraft. It was powered by a Bosch DC motor that had been taken from a forklift and flew for 14 minutes on a Nickel-cadmium (NiCad) battery, then a new invention.

All these years later, battery power remains the limiting factor for electric aircraft. The more powerful the battery, the heavier it is, and at the moment no battery is powerful enough to carry more than a few passengers for any significant distance.

Recent Progress in Electric Aircraft

But progress is being made.

Just as great strides have been taken in electric car technology by companies like Tesla, similar strides have been made in the air by companies like Airbus and Siemens.

The Airbus E-Fan, which was introduced at Farnborough Air Show in 2014, was a prototype two-seater electric aircraft that was originally slated to enter production for pilot training, but it was scrapped in 2017 as the company preferred to focus on the development of a hybrid-electric, regional jet-sized aircraft.

In terms of power-to-weight ratio and speed, no electric aircraft has outdone the Siemens Extra 330LE, which set a speed record for electric aircraft in 2017 after clocking in at 209.7 mph. Its 110 lb motor boasts a constant output of 260 kilowatts.

Rolls-Royce is aiming to beat out Siemens with its newly designed electric aircraft, which it says will reach speeds of 300 mph and travel 300 miles on a single charge. The company says it’s scheduled to debut in 2020.

These small all-electric aircraft are laying the groundwork for the technology. As happened in the automotive industry, we’re likely to see widespread use of hybrid-electric technology in aerospace before we see all-electric.

Hybrid Electric Airplanes

Boeing is aiming to build a 12-seat hybrid plane with a 700-mile range by 2022.

One of the most important projects in the the partnership between Rolls-Royce, Siemens and Airbus to build a hybrid-electric demonstrator for the British Aerospace 146, a short-haul and regional airliner.

One of its four Lycoming ALF502 turbofan engines will be replaced by a two megawatt Siemens electric motor adapted by Rolls-Royce to integrate with its AE2100 turboshaft engine, powered by an Airbus-designed 2-ton battery.

Across the globe there are over 100 electric aircraft projects underway. London’s Heathrow has said it expects to see electric jetliners at major airports by 2030.

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