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Aviation

Published on May 4th, 2014 | by Christopher DeMorro

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Airbus E-FAN Airplane’s First Flight (VIDEO)

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May 4th, 2014 by
 

Originally published on Gas2.

The Airbus E-FAN electric plane made its first flight last month, and though it didn’t go far, it’s a big step towards emissions-free flying. Even better, Airbus eventually wants to produce and market a line of electric and hybrid aircraft under the VoltAir brand, meaning a future of electric flying could be closer than we think.

This first manned flight is a follow-up to last year’s demonstrator test, and the E-FAN first flew on March 11th thanks to lithium-polymer batteries that provide between 45 minutes and an hour of flight time, along with a top speed of 220 KPH, or about 136 MPH. Airbus imagines the E-FAN being used for training missions or stunt flying, where range isn’t as much of a concern. Future battery packs could provide additional range for planned production models.

One of the big draws of electric flight is cost, and Airbus claims a typical flight will only cost about $16, whereas a comparable gas-powered plane would suck down $55 worth of fuel. The E-FAN uses a complex energy management system to conserve power, and clever tricks like a wheel-mounted aft motor to provide movement while taxiing saves the juice for flying. Recharging is said to take only an hour as well, so you don’t have to stay grounded for long.

Though this isn’t the first electric airplane to take to the air, it could be the first one to enter mass production. Airbus is planning two models; the pure-electric E-FAN2.0 with room for two people, and the E-FAN 4.0, which can seat four people and uses a hybrid drivetrain rather than just electricity. These planes could lower the cost of entry to aviation, at least as far as fuel is concerned, and one day small electric or hybrid Airbus aircraft could become the standard commuter plane for frequent flyers.

One advantage of electric aircraft even the most ardent defender of the status quo will have to concede is that electrified aircraft will be many times quieter than their combustion-powered cousins, and airports could become a whole lot quieter in the not-too-distant future.

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Source: Gizmag

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About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or esle, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.



  • Sanjiv Dutta

    Clean, Green and what not! Is it going to do any good for global emission or warming? Looks like much of a hype. I may be wrong but here is my concern:

    The cost for recharge ($16) does not say everything. What about the source of electricity used for recharging? Is it emission free too? Does not it radiate heat either?

    What about the net efficiency after considering loss in charging & discharging?

    If people prefer to use these smaller planes, global warming will actually get worse, subsiding the hyped 3 times ‘efficiency’ – I mean it will have the same effect of using individual cars instead of clubbing crowd in a bigger public bus.

    P.S: Readers, pl. don’t throw abusive comments at me just coz I stated a different opinion.

    • Bob_Wallace

      If it runs on electricity then it can run on clean energy.

      It’s important to find ways to switch from fossil fuels to renewables and that has to happen at both the generation level (solar, wind, etc.) and at the consumption level (EVs, etc.).

      I think that we need to realize that many people will not switch to renewable electricity or away from petroleum fuel if it requires they spend more or suffer some change in lifestyle. We need to find affordable, acceptable substitutes.

      Will this line of research pan out? We don’t know, but we need to try.

  • h2osmb

    Would a power assisted take-off be helpful. Angled and sloped up and connected to a power source, till lift is achieved. Something not to harsh as to compromise the structural integrity of the plane. I know this would only be good from point to point, but it is along the same line as Elon Musk is doing with the superpower chargers for the Tesla.

  • Rick Kargaard

    It might be fun, but who would buy a plane that has a range that may be less than the commutes to and from the airports?

  • driveby

    go for more batteries and leave the panels on the ground, any where that thing can land (see the landing gear and how fragile it is) it will have options to have electric power available. All the big hangars (that not only cover a planes fuselage and wings, but it’s full width and length) can be covered in PV and charge the planes.. then all the large grass fields on the airports..

    In short, it already doesn’t make sense to put PV on an EV like Ford does try to sell for the foreseeable future, it even makes less sense on a plane where every bit of weight counts.

    • Ronald Brakels

      Technically the PV can be extremely light, but saving on weight cuts its efficiency and it would currently be very expensive to install it on planes and then there are issues like what happens when there is a lightning strike and the PV wiring is providing a path into the plane? Right now it definitely makes much more sense to have the PV at the airfield. In the future this might change, but then in the future it will also be cheaper and easier to have PV at the airfield. But for uncrewed planes PV on the wings and body might make more sense. Many will probably be small giving a higher surface area to mass ratio and safety requirements are not so high. They could make a delivery to a remote area and charge up on the ground before heading back. The airstrip on an outback farm may not have any convenient electricity source and even if does the cost of buying an appropriate DC charger may not be cost effective if air delivery is a rare thing for them.

      • LookingForward

        Like that tv show, about deliveries in remote areas in Alaska, that can only be reached by plane. They would be saving alot on grocery shopping :P

  • Ronald Brakels

    Besides saving on fuel cost another huge saving is maintenance. There is much less to check and much less less to do to keep an electric motor operating. A typical light plane’s engine might need to be replaced every 2,000 hours. An electric motor would not need to be replaced for the life of the plane. Currently we can make extremely lightweight PV which would allow a plane to fly to a remote area and charge up while sitting on the ground. PV on the plane won’t have much of an effect as a range extender, but it would still help as long as it was light enough.

  • JamesWimberley

    Well, well. This could be very big eventually. For commercial flying, you would need an order of magnitude higher power density in the batteries to get from 1 hour to 10 hours duration and from 220 kph to 660 kph; the battery weight might simply scale up from these 2-seaters. With bigger planes flying higher, a skin of solar panels as with the Solar Impulse would extend the range. That’s all very ambitious but not crazy. The sustainable alternative is liquid fuel from biomass or direct synthesis from atmospheric CO2.

    • Omega Centauri

      The math on solar isn’t so great. Lets guess that $16 of juice is maybe 150KWhours, so the planes power consumption is probably on the order of 150KW. You might be able to put 5-10KW on the wings, for a range boost of under 10%. Still useful, but not huge.

      • Ronald Brakels

        For a plane used in remote areas being able to charge up while sitting on the ground could be very useful. But it may take a lot of charging, as it might only get a kilometer or two of range from a kilowatt-hour.

        • Omega Centauri

          Its similar to PV on a ground EV, you have a little bit of assurance, “if it were impossible to connect to the grid, I would eventually be able to make it back under my own power”.

      • Omega Centauri

        Its not as bad as a thought. New scientist had ar article on the E-fan, my guestimate on power consumption was based on the $16/flight claim:

        http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22229674.400-allelectric-plane-heralds-future-of-green-aviation.html

        With two 65-kilogram lithium battery packs hidden in its wings, each driving a 30-kilowatt electric motor, the E-Fan cruises at 185 kilometres per hour and flies for an hour.

        “The E-Fan is just a precursor to a bigger, regional airliner,” says Botti. In a research programme called E-Thrust, Airbus is aiming to produce a hybrid airliner with 80 seats that can handle regional city hops – a Toyota Prius of the skies, if you like.

        So if it only needs 50-60KW to fly, PV could supply 10-20% of operating power. Still only a small boost, but a lot closer to something practical.

        • Ronald Brakels

          Thanks for looking that up, Omega. That information makes me think that it might get up to around three kilometers range per kilowatt-hour. Looking at the energy consumption of conventional small planes made me think it might get as little as one kilometer per kilowatt-hour. But even if it only draws an average of 30 kilowatts in flight, 4 square meters of high efficiency solar cells, which seems reasonable for such a small plane, will only produce about a kilowatt under ideal conditions, extending its range by only a few percent.

          • Omega Centauri

            I think wings have greater surface area than you think, say 30meters square (ten meters by one), with 20% efficient PV that yields 6KW.

          • Ronald Brakels

            This plane doesn’t look very big. The wings are about a width of a man and I guess a bit more than two men long.

          • Omega Centauri

            Eyeball the second picture of it flying. It looks like each wing is circa five meters long. So five meters times two times say 1 meter wide, is ten square meters. Can probably find some other surfaces to cover too. Not 30 square meters, but at least 10-12.

          • Ronald Brakels

            I watched the video which is something I rarely do because we aren’t allowed to have good internet in Australia and the wings aren’t a meter across. But let’s say 10 square metres of 25% efficient PV. Still only a small help in extendng range.

          • JamesWimberley

            The range depends on the cruising consumption, not the average, which is heavily weighted by takeoff and landing. You would also get a worthwhile increase in pv output from height: solar irradiance in space is 50% higher than on the Earth’s surface.
            This debate I started is fun, but it’s a side issue. The economics of electric planes will depend on the batteries and motors.

          • Ronald Brakels

            The energy demands of takeoff certainly do mean that a plane with two hours endurance will have its ranged extended by solar PV more than a plane with one hour’s endurance, despite one interesting thing about electric flight being that the effect of takeoff on range is a little smaller for electric planes on account of how electric motors operate more efficiently than internal combustion engines under high power output. But irradience in space is only about 37% more than the 1,000 watt a square meter standard used for temperate regions with 1.5 earth atmospheres in the way of the sun. And about 10% of that is UV that gets filtered out by the ozone layer which is a bit high for light aircraft to get above. (Not that PV is generally much good at making use of UV anyway.) A light aircraft might typically fly at one to two kilometers altitude which would only put it above about 15% of the atmosphere. Assuming a clear sky this might only boost the output of PV by perhaps 4%.

        • JamesWimberley

          If they can manage takeoff or landing entirely on electric power, they could probably get permission to fly at night. For airports like Heathrow that are at capacity, this could be a very significant advantage.

  • MaryRStephens

    These planes could lower the cost of entry to aviation, at least as far as fuel is concerned, and one day small electric or hybrid Airbus aircraft could become the standard commuter plane for frequent flyers. http://num.to/5276-6089-5094

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