The Airbus E-Fan Takes To The Skies

In turn, this has increased the time the plane can stay in the sky – from 25 minutes to over 55 minutes.

Over the long term, Airbus sees its electric technology combining with biofuel-powered motors in a hybrid plane. After the batteries have drained, these motors would re-charge the power cells.

The company’s aim is for this plane to carry up to 100 passengers on regional flights within 15 years. It also added that by the middle of the century, such a plane should have a range of at least three hours.

In the shorter term, however, Airbus plans to launch its E-Fan 2.0 in 2017, and have a four-seater electric plane with a gas-powered range extender ready by 2019.

But with such technological progress being made, and a mandate to reduce aviation greenhouse emissions while still maintaining power and range, Airbus obviously isn’t alone in trying to develop electric plane technology…

Other Competitors on the Horizon

As you can imagine, all the big names are involved…

  • In partnership with Cambridge University, Boeing (BA) is working on an electric plane. Last year, its single-seater aircraft took a test flight with an electric motor that’s augmented with a piston engine.
  • NASA is working on a $15-million project to produce its own version of an electric plane, dubbed the X-57.
  • Last year, the Solar Impulse crossed the United States without using a drop of fuel. And Solar Impulse 2 recently made the longest-ever solar-powered flight, going non-stop from Japan to Hawaii. (Unfortunately, the aircraft suffered battery damage and is grounded until April 2016, with the team needing another $22 million to restart its round-the-world mission.)
  • And Airbus was beaten across the English Channel by about 12 hours by a French pilot in a Cri-Cri electric plane.

The question is, with all this innovation, will electric plane technology actually succeed?

Sky-High Potential

The answer most likely is “yes.”

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Neil Armstrong 3 years ago Member's comment

If the airframe & wings where covered with the latest or future very thin pliable high output solar cells then this plane & others would have much greater range??

Tony Bodle 3 years ago Member's comment

The potential is huge, and so are the Problems, but with modern technology it should be possible.. We have to be aware that the outsourced materials - Electricity / Batteries / Size of planes.. Its a long haul project. If it can be made, the benefits are very high. But in parallel we need to carry the out sourced problems and solution along at the same time, otherwise we are simply moving the problem, not solving it.

No Name 3 years ago Member's comment

Gives the "LOW-BAT" alert a whole new meaning.

It is a great development. On the other hand, we need to add the carbon footprint of lithium, from mining to recycling. Manufacturing of the cells includes cobalt and powerful solvents. Not only batteries come out of the plant, but slurry. Also, with lower power and shorter autonomy, more flights and stops will be needed. And recharges: how many cycles can these batteries stand? All that has it's own cost in terms of energy efficiency. And money, of course, wich will be paramount for acceptance.

I'm all in favor of dumping oil (pun intended) as an energy source, but do not jump into the happy wagon yet. Airbus et al might be on the right track, but won't go hailing anyone as the Ecological Savior yet. Also, 22 million? Really? How much money do they make from selling just one of one gas guzzling 380?

Francis Sammut 3 years ago Member's comment

Perhaps and most probable, in the near future we might see passenger airliners also taking to the sky!

Neil Armstrong 3 years ago Member's comment

Very interesting but only for the very rich??

Lars Thomsen 3 years ago Member's comment

Operating costs (fuel and maintenance) of small electric planes will be only 10-20% compared to those of avgas powered single engine piston. And you have virtually no maintance or overhaul costs on the engine(s). So even if the planes will be a little more expensive to buy (maybe 20-50%), they will be very inexpensive to operate. And due to the fact that they are virtually silence, you might be able to fly at hours and places that are closed for SEPs.