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Published on July 6th, 2016 | by James Ayre


Siemens Electric Airplane Flies Us Toward The Future

July 6th, 2016 by  

Originally published on EV Obsession.

A new type of electric motor — weighing just 50 kilograms, but delivering a continuous power output of around 260 kilowatts (roughly 5 times comparable drive systems) — was recently demonstrated live in an Extra 330LE aerobatic airplane by researchers from Siemens, according to a press release from the German giant.

The (nearly silent) demonstration took place at Schwarze Heide Airport near Dinslaken, Germany, and represents the first public flight of an electric aircraft with a 260-kilowatt power output. The company’s plan is reportedly to integrate the technology into the development of hybrid-electric aircraft, in partnership with Airbus.

Siemens electric airplane 260 kilowatts

One of the main implications of this work, according to the press release, is that hybrid-electric aircraft possessing 4 or more seats will now be a possibility within the near future.

“This day will change aviation,” stated Frank Anton, head of eAircraft at Siemens’ central research unit Corporate Technology. “This is the first time that an electric aircraft in the quarter-megawatt performance class has flown.”

The press release notes that, “the Extra 330LE, which weighs nearly 1,000 kilograms, serves as a flying test bed for the new propulsion system. As an aerobatic airplane, it’s particularly well suited for taking the components to their limits, testing them and enhancing their design.”

Siemens and Airbus will reportedly be using the motor for the development of regional aircraft. “By 2030, we expect to see initial aircraft with up to 100 passengers and a range of around 1,000 kilometers,” continued Anton.

“The first flight of our propulsion system is a milestone on the road to electrification of aviation,” commented Siemens Chief Technology Officer Siegfried Russwurm. “To continue this journey successfully, we need disruptive ideas and the courage to take risks. That’s why the development of electric propulsion systems for aircraft is also the first project for our new start-up organization, next47.”

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About the Author

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.

  • ja_1410

    Airbus A380 requires about 50MW continuous power to fly. So if we just put 200 of this motors we almost good to go 🙂

    • Propellers require less energy than jets.The problem is that they are slower. I would be willing to fly in a slower propeller plane if it would reduce my carbon footprint, even if it took twice as long to get to the destination, but I think that most other people will only be willing if it is significantly cheaper. The good thing is that electricity is much cheaper than jet fuel. The problem is that the world isn’t investing much in electric aircraft so we will probably have to wait several decades before we start seeing electric planes being produced at scale. Musk thinks that electric jets will eventually become possible with a 33% improvement in energy density of lithium ion battery.

      • ja_1410

        I will not be willing to “reduce my carbon footprint” leftist nonsense for doubling or tripling flight time. To reduce carbon footprint you should take ocean liner. Per passenger ship is far more efficient than plane and it can even use sails for 100% green.

        Typical Atlantic flight is 7 to 9 hours in a jet. Typical Pacific flight from US to Asia is 15 to 18 hours. In a propeller plane you would be flying several days. There is a reason why all long distance flights are serviced by jet since 1950’s.

  • Neel

    That’s awesome step…we need to get away from Fossil fuels altogether!…1 hour of flight of a 787 Boeing uses the amount of Fuel u can Use all year in your Car.

    • Dennis Worley

      I agree,we need a global carbon tax and eplanes could take off with existing teck!

  • Carl Raymond S

    The silent takeoff and landing mean that an airstrip becomes compatible with residential areas.
    100 seats with a pilot? I still feel that the “killer app” is 4 seats with no pilot – all electric. Take out labour and fuel cost and you have air travel for the price of a bus ticket, and it goes where you want to go, when you want to go.

    • Hridayesh Gupta

      You are on to something. It may also become possible for these planes to takeoff and land from existing highways, provided all traffic on highway is robotic. These bots on ground may create a moving block (a gap in traffic) to accomodate small aircrafts. We already allow emergency vehicles that privilege, though the gap created with human drivers is pathetic.

      • Wait. So the flying car of the future is really going to be the driving plane?

  • Jason hm

    I dunno practical commercial Electric flight needs higher energy density than any Lithium ION’ chemistry in the pipeline now can provide. 2030 seems incredible ambitious for new battery tech to become available and new airliners designed and built around that tech. Perhaps by 2050.

    • heinbloed

      ‘Sold planes’ are a commercial factor.

      Airbus is building these planes in France from 2017 onwards:


    • Joe Viocoe

      Lithium Ion isn’t anywhere near it’s limit… and the 8%/yr incremental improvement is opening up new applications.

      • heinbloed

        Sometimes there are the little things which can make a huge difference in battery technology:


        30-50% practical capacity increase within the 300% theoretical potential increase – with the investment of a fridge magnet(in simple terms).

        I’d say there is still a huge scope from these 30-50% upwards, this number is for existing commercial battery manufacturing methods.

        • juxx0r

          That was the most exciting bit of battery research i’ve read in the last five years.

  • John Moore

    I have never seen discussion of where we are on the development of a small single engine, Cessna 172, or Piper Cub type plane. Shouldn’t this be nearing feasibility? I can imagine that there would be plenty of early adopters, willing to pay a premium for one of these.
    Can someone chime in on this?

    • sjc_1

      An electric plane has to be light, aluminum and carbon fiber help. An electric with a reformed fuel cell extender would work. Reform jet fuel to H2 on board.

      • Joe Viocoe

        Considering you still get all of the carbon that you would get by burning it… and the overall efficiency isn’t that much greater for a reformer/fuel cell/motor conversion pathway… I can see why nobody seems to be doing this.

        • sjc_1

          You do not get the Nox and other combustion products and it is quiet.
          I favor an inline motor/engine hybrid, if one fails the other takes over.

          • Joe Viocoe

            Fair point about NOx

      • juxx0r

        A reformed fuel cell is one that finally got off it’s arse, did an energy balance and went and got recycled into a battery?

        • sjc_1

          To get 400 mile range a plane would have to carry 2000 pounds of cells, which is the take off weight of some small planes.

    • heinbloed

      Check the www, there is plenty of development.
      Which is in no need of discussion 😉

  • beernotwar

    A hybrid-electric system with an ICE generating power to a battery which powers electric motors might be safer than current tech. If the motor quits you would still have a significant amount of time to find a place to land before the battery runs out. Since electric motors are simpler and more reliable the odds of a sudden failure resulting in loss of power would be significantly reduced. Also the ICE could be smaller and located anywhere in the plane allowing for better weight-and-balance management.

    • sjc_1

      A hybrid plane would be safe, but weigh more and cost more. In private aviation it is perceived that aircraft engines are safe enough.

    • An engine going out does not mean a plane is doomed. Most planes are capable of gliding and unpowered landing. Also passenger planes over a certain always have more than one engine.

      • juxx0r

        A plane with only one engine is broken.

        • Wat? Some planes only have one engine. Look at the picture in this article.

  • Andre Needham

    “roughly 5 times comparable drive systems” yet the weight and power numbers are pretty similar to a Model S motor.

    • sjc_1

      Remy has had the 250 model that can put out 200kW under 100 pounds for years.

    • Peter

      I think the comparison is with the regular aviation piston engine. The Extra 300 uses a Lycoming 540 and it only has a power density of slightly more than 1 kW/kg.

  • Ivor O’Connor

    Motor power is just a factor that goes into range and speed. And neither range nor speed were mentioned in this article.

    • heinbloed

      The strong engines are a military demand allowing all-weather usage.

    • Jens Stubbe

      An ICE capable of delivering 250kW weighs in, so lowering the weight of the engine means more battery capacity for the same weight, which translates into longer range.

      Interestingly they could also fit high efficient light weight solar panels to the design and increase range that way.

      And clearly the chosen plane they are developing into an electric plane is by no means ideal for the purpose.

      Autonomous flying is way simpler to achieve (actually already done) than autonomous driving and taking the pilot out of the equation frees more space and weight for passengers.

      In commercial aviation the expectation is that aerodynamic optimization will double range and most of the effect will come from wider wing span.

      Even though 50kg/250kW is impressive continued development will improve on that.

      Keeping the planes small at first is pretty smart because there is also plenty of systems installed that can tow small planes airborne and thus extend range.

      • Ivor O’Connor

        The weight of solar panels might be an issue. Look at that solar plane moving at 5 mph and larger than a 747.

        • Jens Stubbe

          Actually panels can be nearly the same weight as a coat of paint and if you look at the anergy car powered by plus 30% efficient panels then it is obvious that solar on a small plane could extend range. Google plan to have flying internet with planes that soar during the day and glide down during the night – a simple practical way of storing energy.

          • Frank

            I wondered about that, with semi trailers too. Doesn’t First Solar “print” on thin aluminum? Then you might want some sort of protection, but you might be able to use a film of some sort.

          • Ivor O’Connor

            Theoretically maybe but not now. Otherwise Solar Impulse 2 would look totally different: http://www.solarimpulse.com/

          • Jens Stubbe

            Agreed but most of what I wrote was for coming planes including complete redesign, autonomous flying so best guess is that what is already sold but not tailored for planes is the least futuristic.

    • JamesWimberley

      As with cars, performance matters. Airbus’ small electric 2-seater nearing production is being marketed as a flight trainer. An aerobatic plane of the same size is a step up in demands on the power train. Of course the key constraint on electric aviation is the batteries, but small steps like Siemens’ motor bring the day closer.

    • Adam Non

      The test mule plane isn’t demonstrating batteries, just the power unit. Some expectations were set for commercial aircraft, but 2030 is so far away, who knows what will exist by then? I could envisage mid-air refueling of electric aircraft from permanently airborne stations, nose-to-tail caravans for given routes (allowing less skilled pilots or even autonomous aircraft to move between major cities) or regenerative systems to recapture potential energy on descent or using automated gliding through thermals, or detachable sub-craft “landing” on vertical descent systems (solar elevators that raise and lower aircraft from 10,000 feet, etc.)
      If governments would stop squandering national production on war and profits for the 0.1%, trillions of dollars could go into sustainable infrastructure, then progress would be measured in years, not decades.

  • Mike Dill

    Good work on the motor. Battery power per unit of weight is also getting better. At 2x the current ‘standard’ technology (about 500w/kg), battery power flight starts to make economic sense.

    • Elon Musk thinks an electric jet is possible at 400 w/kg, but he has radical ideas in mind to use gimbaled motors and get rid of the tail.

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