Oshkosh highlights Experimental Electric Aircraft
GA has history of Innovation
Current Battery Technology makes GA the best Initial Vehicle
General Aviation, especially the experimental class, has been one of the sources of innovation and those new designs/materials/powerplants/ etc. have migrated into other segments of flying. To prove that thesis, all one needs to do is mention the legendary Burt Rutan.
The future of aviation is electric as the (a?) source of power. Here are headlines generated by the Experimental Aircraft Association’s 2019 AirVenture which show that GA maybe a precursor to using this powersource for larger aircraft:
Bye initially designed the electric plane after learning of a growing commercial airline pilot shortage. He thought the eFlyer could cut down on expensive fuel costs for flight school training. But in addition to breaking down barriers to entry for new pilots, electric planes could one day make the aviation industry much friendlier to the environment.
For flight schools the cost savings are big. Using Colorado prices, it takes about $3 worth of electricity for the eFlyer to make a flight that would require $50 worth of fuel. For commercial airline pilot training, that adds up to more than $70,000 in savings. If the plane is charged with renewable energy, it also cuts greenhouse gas emissions to zero.
Here’s some of the news
Los Angeles, CA. July 17, 2019 “In remarks ahead of the EAA AirVenture airshow this month, Ampaire CEO Kevin Noertker revealed the company’s roadmap toward new all-electric commuter aircraft, beginning with the rapid introduction of electric powertrains on currently certified aircraft. This approach addresses two major problems in commercial aviation today—high operating costs and the environmental impact of CO2 and other emissions.
Ampaire has begun a flight test program on its first commercial product, the Ampaire Electric EEL, a twin-engine Cessna 337 Skymaster modified to fly with one conventional combustion engine and one electric motor. It is the largest hybrid-electric aircraft flying today. The Electric EEL will enter flight trials on commercial routes with Mokulele Airlines in Hawaii later this year, a partnership enabled by a Hawaii-based startup accelerator, Elemental Excelerator. FAA certification of the Electric EEL is projected for 2021.
“The most practical way to achieve an all-electric future is to jump start the market with a partially-electric present,” said Noertker. “We’re pursuing a pragmatic, step-by-step approach, a scalable plan to quickly commercialize and expand the electric airplane market. This approach recognizes that other development programs for clean-sheet all-electric aircraft will consume hundreds of millions of dollars in R&D and potentially require a decade or more to certify.
Bye Aerospace said Sunday at EAA AirVenture that it has received 624 “customer commitments” for its series of all-electric eFlyer training aircraft: 170 deposits, 318 memoranda of understanding (MOUs), and 136 MOU options. Major new orders include a commitment for 60 eFlyer2 two-seat aircraft from Norway’s OSM Group and 100 eFlyer4 models from BlackBird air taxi. CEO George Bye said that the company’s technology demonstrator aircraft recently began flying with a 20 percent more powerful Rolls-Royce Siemens SB70 V10 motor that can deliver speeds of up to 90 knots while consuming 35 kilowatts of power and the ability to carry 450 pounds of passenger payload for flight durations up to three hours.
Today, there are no regulations that would allow practical, battery-only flight, except for ultralights (with an empty weight of less than 254 lb.). Light sport aircraft (LSA) (with a maximum takeoff weight up to 1,320 lb.) must be powered by a reciprocating engine, which rules out electric. And aircraft in the experimental category cannot be used for commercial activities such as pilot training (except with a difficult to obtain waiver from the FAA). But if a piston or turbine engine provides the electric power via batteries, it is the primary powerplant and complies with today’s rules.
A number of electric-powered airplanes now populate the commercial market and are a proven technology. So one might ask why Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University would take on a project to equip a standard motorglider with electric propulsion and batteries.
“Hopefully we can help out the industry in this lower technology readiness level (TRL),” Richard “Pat” Anderson, director of ERAU’s Eagle Flight Research Center, said.
When asked what TRL means, Pat said, “Nine is production, one is splitting atoms … five and six is what they call the chasm of death in that some interesting technologies get to three and the basic researchers don’t want to mess with them anymore, but it’s not ready for commercialization.”
ERAU’s project, which they call the e-Spirit of St. Louis, is a student-run effort to span that TRL gap between basic research and true commercialization. A number of electric flight challenges still exist with cooling, motor control, and battery control, particularly as they apply to larger and faster aircraft.
Their plane is located in the GAMA booth here at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2017, just west of the EAA Wearhouse.
Tony Zhao, an ERAU engineering graduate student, is the project lead. He stayed at the university after completing his undergraduate degree specifically to continue work on the e-Spirit.
“We need to research the safety aspect, the efficiency aspect, and also the experimental friendly aspect,” Tony said. “Eventually we want to help the FAA judge what type of technology is safe for aviation and what types of technology are not safe for aviation.”
The project is also expected to address overall noise, and what Pat refers to as “wells to wings.”
ERAU has worked on the noise problem before and has piqued the interest of the U.S. National Park Service. Noise is a key factor in the current limits set for flights over national parks. Quieter aircraft may allow for increased access to the parks from the air.
Wells-to-wings refers to the overall energy and emissions life cycle for a particular aircraft configuration. Working with Argonne National Laboratory, ERAU is conducting analyses that consider different fuels and different motors.
The e-Spirit aircraft is a standard Diamond HK36 motorglider. It has a unique history, as Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works used the craft in its research efforts before donating it to ERAU.
Pat and Tony expect to fly the e-Spirit soon, but funding is a challenge. Students have constructed two of the 30 battery modules needed to power the plane’s 100-hp motor. Constructing the balance of the modules requires additional funding, and ERAU is encouraging everyone to participate in a crowd funding effort. More information about that effort is available at www.Facebook.com/EagleFRC.
June 6, 2019 – The newest venue in Aviation Gateway Park is the Urban Air Mobility (UAM) Showcase. The UAM Showcase will include a number of prominent and innovative companies in the urban air mobility industry. Members and attendees will want to visit the UAM Showcase to see everything from eVTOLs to hover bikes: to put it plainly, it’s the home of innovations and experimental aircraft that exemplify what the future of aviation looks like.
Attendees at the UAM Showcase will be able to learn about the new technologies from the multitude of companies attempting to solve the air mobility challenge, as well as interact personally with those making the largest leaps forward. The following 11 companies are all anticipated to attend, and share their work with curious AirVenture attendees.
- AeroMobil is an international team of more than 40 experts from the automotive and aerospace sectors representing over eight countries across the world. Based in Central Europe they work together to design and manufacture unique and innovative flying cars (AeroMobil 4.0 STOL and AeroMobil 5.0 VTOL) within all existing regulations for road and air transport, with the features of automobiles and airplanes combined.
- Athena Aerospace is an independent engineering consultancy for advanced systems. Combining vast engineering skills with a thorough knowledge of manufacturing, we help organizations develop outstanding technologies for Aviation, Space, Defense and other demanding domains.
- Assen Aero is bringing the Assen Aero A1, an electric hoverbike that is adapted from a café style motorbike. Three ducted fans allow for propulsion, lift, and stability, and the pilot rides the hoverbike with the same stance that they would a normal motorcycle.
- BETA Technologies is a small, cross-functional team working on inventing the next generation of electric aircraft and recharging systems. BETA has put an eVTOL in the air, designed the world’s largest electric aircraft, and began manufacturing the world’s first megawatt-scale aircraft recharging station.
- BLADE is a digitally powered aviation company based in New York City. BLADE allows users to create their own crowdsourced flights or purchase seats on pre-existing flights between Manhattan, the Hamptons, Nantucket, the Jersey Shore, Miami, and all surrounding airports. As of April 2019, BLADE also operates scheduled service in Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area. BLADE’s mobile platform bridges the needs of consumers and aviation operators to reduce the cost of air travel on private aircraft by maximizing passenger capacity utilization.
- EHANG is an intelligent autonomous aerial vehicle company with integrated capacities of R&D, manufacturing, sales, and services. EHANG 184 AAV is a safe, smart, and eco-friendly low-altitude autonomous aerial vehicle, aiming to provide medium- to short-distance communication and transportation solutions.
- Lift Aircraft allows pilots and nonpilots to experience controlled flight. The company has developed a multi-rotor, single passenger aircraft that a rider can operate within a geofenced area. After flying in a sim and tutorial, the pilot is free to explore the sky.
- VerdeGo Aero has shifted gears from developing its own flying car to developing hybrid-electric propulsion systems (integrated distributed electric propulsion) for eVTOL aircraft. The company will focus on hybrid systems until battery technology improves to the point that fully electric solutions are capable.
“…There are limitations as to what we can do with batteries,” she said. “If you took the best battery today and made it five times more efficient and you wanted to make an [all electric] airliner the size of an [Airbus] A320 [passenger jet], it would weigh six times as much as the aircraft of today without even putting any passengers or cargo on board. The [UAM prototype] vehicles that are out there have a range of about 30 miles. Try to get more than 30 minutes to an hour out of a vehicle the size [of the Vahana] is very challenging today. And the battery technology is going to have to come along much further if we are going to have 100 percent electric vehicles.” She added that Airbus is continuing its exploration into improved battery technology.
However, battery capacity is only part of the problem, Simpson said. “The challenge isn’t the energy density as it goes to weight and volume, but also the charging challenge. There’s only so much energy you can pump into these things over a given period of time. You have to be able to recharge these vehicles when they land. Does that mean swapping out batteries or plugging it in? Where is that energy coming from? How many times can you recharge a battery before you can’t get the maximum utilization out of it? It’s very easy to measure fuel left in a tank, not so much to determine how many megawatt-hours are left in your battery.”
Aside from the battery issue, there is also one of commercial viability. Simpson doesn’t think that urban air-taxi models, which assume passenger per seat mile costs will be on par with those of the family car, are particularly realistic. Then there is the not inconsequential matter of public acceptance as it relates to autonomous air vehicles to transport passengers. The Vahana is designed to be operated autonomously without a pilot in the aircraft or any accessible flight controls in the cabin. A single touchscreen is used to conduct passenger safety briefings and to confirm a passenger’s destination and if he or she is ready for takeoff. Simpson says some potential passengers who have visited the aircraft this week at Airventure find that disconcerting. “People are reluctant to get in vehicles without visible flight controls. It’s a leap,” she said.
There are other safety-related issues as well. Simpson points out that Airbus and a handful of other companies exploring the UAM market have solid aircraft building experience over several decades but that most of the market entrants do not. “It’s only a matter of time before a company new to building aircraft has an accident and then it will raise the bar for everyone else. Here at Oshkosh, in part, we celebrate the Golden Age of aviation. However, when you look back at that age, we killed a lot of people. But there was such enthusiasm that it continued, and the fallout was that it took a long time before people were willing to get on airplanes as part of a scheduled service.
GA is in many ways very different from the other segments of our business. Innovation is the number one differentiating factor. #2 is enthusiasm and that element provides the energy to surmount seemingly impossible obstacles (necessity is the mother of invention). The friendly fanatics, who fill the confines of the AirVenture, provide some measure of the depth of the support from general aviation. Expectations should be set that these flyers and engineers/designers/manufacturers will find a way.
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