In the 18th century, the British theologian John Wesley described the electricity that astonished his contemporaries as “the soul of the universe”. Three centuries later, this definition is even more accurate thanks to the new aircraft being developed by Airbus Group. The company is now setting its sights on achieving silent, CO2-free, all-electric flight for both unmanned and passenger aircraft over the next three decades.
Our focus is to develop innovations that will help define what tomorrow’s aerospace industry will look like
Jean BottiChief Technical Officer of Airbus Group As part of this roadmap, Airbus Group is currently involved in a number of technological programmes whose breakthroughs could eventually also be applied to an all-electric helicopter and a 90-seat-passenger regional airliner with fully electric or hybrid propulsion.The final aim is to meet the European Commission’s Flightpath 2050 targets for aircraft, which include a 75% reduction in aircraft CO2 emissions from the year 2000 baseline. “We are 20 or 30 years away from developing a big commercial aircraft,” says head of e-aircraft programmes, Detlef Müller-Wiesner. “It’s a question of going one step at a time.”
Research on electric propulsion
These are some of Airbus Group’s major projects which are moving forward research on electric propulsion:
The E-Fan, a fully electrically-powered aviation training aircraft
The E-Thrust concept study based on a distributed propulsion system architecture, which would be the basis of a fully hybrid and electric commercial aircraft in the long term
The DA36 E-Star 2 project, two seat hybrid electric motor aircraft, in conjunction with Diamond Aircraft and Siemens
Applications in the field of Unmanned Aerial Systems as shown by the Quadcruiser prototype, which combines hover capabilities with the cruising speed of an aircraft
The E-Roadmap takes flight
Based on experimental prototypes of all-electric aircraft, Airbus Group Innovations – the company’s network of Research & Technology centers – has already built the E-Fan Demonstrator, which performed its first public flight in April 2014 at Bordeaux-Merignac airport.
”There are several electric planes flying today, but they are almost all based on already existing platforms or on the re-engineering of existing aircraft. For E-Fan, we started from scratch to build a completely new electric aircraft. It is fully dedicated to electrical propulsion, in terms of aerodynamics, integration and safety,” underlines Emmanuel Joubert, head of the propulsion system team at Airbus Group Innovations.
The E-Fan family
Airbus sees the E-Fan as a family of aircraft and has already signed agreements with its partners for the industrialisation phase. The short-term goal is to achieve entry-into-service in late 2017 of a 2.0 two-seat pilot trainer version. This will make it the first all-electric production aircraft in the world certified to international standards by civil airworthiness authorities.
The 2.0 version will be followed by the E-Fan 4.0, a four-seater plane targeted for full pilot licensing and the general aviation market. A company wholly owned by Airbus Group, named Voltair SAS, will develop, build and offer service for the two E-Fan production versions. The final assembly facilities will be located at Bordeaux-Mérignac Airport in the framework of French government-backed projects for the country’s future industrialisation, called La Nouvelle France Industrielle.
We’re interested in gaining operational experience with more than 100 E-Fan aircraft in order to obtain statistical data that will enable us to adapt our E-Aircraft roadmap based on the results
Detlef Müller-WiesnerHead of E-Aircraft Programmes