Aerospace & Defence

Innovative aviation takes off with electric aircrafts

24th November 2021
Kiera Sowery

Electric Vehicles are paving the way for the future of the automotive industry and they’re not stopping there. With air traffic set to increase by five percent every year until 2030, electric or hybrid electric aircrafts could be the solution to greener air travel.

Rolls-Royce reported it has made history as its ‘Spirit of Innovation’, all-electric plane reached a top speed of 387.4 mph during test runs. This aligns with the company’s plan to reach net zero by 2030, followed by all products by 2050.

Warren East, Chief Executive of Rolls-Royce stated: "Following the world's focus on the need for action at COP26, this is another milestone that will help make 'jet zero' a reality.

"It supports our ambitions to deliver the technology breakthroughs society needs to decarbonise transport across air, land and sea."

The figures from the test flights have been sent to the World Air Sports Federation for verification to see if Rolls-Royce have set a new speed World Record for the fastest electric plane.

Rolls-Royce aren’t the first company to develop an electric airplane. Various others have been built and tested over the years.

In 2018, the Federal Aviation Administration certified Pipistrel’s Alpha Electro, as airworthy. The airplane, capable of seating two individuals, costs just €1 per hour of energy usage. The plane is used for pilot training, allowing for zero emissions and minimum noise.

MagniX’s eCaravan took off for the first time in 2020, flying for 30 minutes. The company reported that the test flight that would usually cost $300 in fuel used less than $6 worth of electrical energy, demonstrating the huge savings to airlines and to the environment.

Wright Electric, a US startup and partner of Easy Jet, has announced its plans for Wright Spirit. This will be a 100-seater electric airplane aiming to take off as of 2026. The aircraft is built for a one-hour flight time and a range of 750km (460 miles). The company state that by focusing on one-hour flights, the aircraft will be most suitable for busy city connections, including London to Paris and San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Jeff Engler, CEO of Wright Electric said: “We can make a significant impact on global emissions by targeting this high-demand segment of the market.”

NASA has also been under instruction by US President Joe Biden, to focus more of its resources on minimising the impact of climate change. It has created the X-57 Maxwell, preparing it for its first flight in spring of 2022.

Despite the technological advancements happening throughout the industry, the obstacle of energy density is still in the way. The amount of energy stored in today’s batteries isn’t enough to get most planes off the ground and sustain a flight beyond a few hundred miles. Compare this to a regular jet plane, in which fuel emits about 43 times more energy than a battery of the same weight.

This is the reason that most companies are working on electric airplanes that are suitable for shorter trips, as a solution for the heavy battery has not yet been found.

It is possible that with battery energy density rising between five and eight percent yearly that energy storage solutions could improve in the future. This would allow electric aircrafts to run successfully for longer time periods. At the current pace of battery and electric engine technology, it’s unlikely that even hybrid electric technology will not be used commercially in aviation until 2030.

The innovative work of the companies discussed within this article showcase that electric aviation is perhaps the way forward of the future. The question is: Will electric aircrafts ever be available commercially; will they be suitable for longer haul flights and will they ever fully replace what is currently available in the industry?

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