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17 July 2018
17. July 2018 Innovation

The future is electric

Olivier Maillard - FIA 2018 - Day 01

A
t the 2018 Farnborough Airshow, the UK government announces financial support for the pioneering Airbus E-Fan X hybrid-electric flight demonstrator.

The E-Fan X is the next step in Airbus’ electrification journey. This ambitious project, in partnership with Siemens and Rolls-Royce, aims to develop a flight demonstrator testing a 2MW hybrid-electric propulsion system.

Airbus E-Fan X

The E-Fan X is the next step in Airbus’ electrification journey

It’s a vision now shared by the UK government. At the opening of the 2018 Farnborough Airshow, Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark announced that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) will invest £255 million to develop greener flight technologies, a share of which will go to E-Fan X. “We are working with industry to lead the world as we embark on this journey into the new age of air travel,” he said.

Airbus believes electric and hybrid-electric propulsion will help the aviation industry meet the goals set out in the Flightpath 2050 Vision for Aviation, which aims to significantly reduce CO2 emissions and noise levels. 

We are delighted that BEIS is investing in our E-Fan X demonstrator programme, which will enable us to further explore and mature these technologies while leveraging the technical expertise in aircraft modifications in the UK alongside those of our other European partners.

- Airbus Chief Technology Officer Grazia Vittadini

A huge leap forward

Starting in 2010 with the CriCri – the world’s first fully electric aircraft – Airbus has also produced the all-electric E-Fan 1.0 and hybrid E-Fan 1.2, which combined a 60 kW motor with a combustion engine. While these represented major achievements, the steps between each project were incremental. The E-Fan X will be a comparatively huge step forward. 

“Our aim is to replace one of four gas turbines on a flying testbed with a 2 MW electric motor,” says E-Fan X project lead Olivier Maillard. “That’s over 60 times more power than the previous E-Fan. Nothing like that has ever flown before.”

Key to this major jump is the rapid pace of development in battery and fuel cell technology. “Now is the right time to focus on larger aircraft and bring hybrid-electric aircraft closer to reality,” Maillard explains. “Quite simply, the industry cannot achieve its sustainability goals with the technologies existing today." 

EFANX Viewpoint 2 HD BSJ 20180201

Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Siemens will each focus on developing certain parts for the E-Fan X, with Airbus responsible for the overall integration of the electric motor into the test aircraft, a British Aerospace RJ100. “Safety was our top priority, so it had to be a four-engine aircraft,” Maillard says. “Unlike the Airbus aircraft, the E-motor on an RJ100 can produce a significant thrust, comparable with the rest of the motors, that would enable level flight with half of the thrust provided by the electric power unit. Airbus will involve BAE Systems Regional Aircraft in the design of the modification to leverage their unequalled aircraft knowledge and to work together with the other partners to approve the modification and release the aircraft for flight under their Design Organisation Approval.” 

With the E-Fan X, Airbus will investigate the challenges of such a high-power propulsion system, such as thermal effects, electric thrust management, altitude and dynamic effects on electric systems, and electromagnetic compatibility issues. It will also work with authorities to establish certification requirements for electrically powered aircraft. 

Flight testing in 2020

Parts manufacturing for the E-Fan X will begin in 2019, followed by ground testing. 

 

By the end of 2020, we aim to start flight testing and one year after that, we hope the E-Fan X can make its first public flights.

- E-Fan X project lead Olivier Maillard

In addition to the environmental benefits, hybrid or fully electric propulsion also has the potential to open up new possibilities for aircraft design. Future vertical take-off and landing aircraft, including for Urban Air Mobility applications, will benefit due to the higher reliability and lower maintenance costs. “This is groundbreaking technology,” says Maillard. “It will change the way people travel.” 

 

Visitors to the 2018 Farnborough Airshow can see a smart model of the E-Fan X at the Airbus pavilion. HoloLens glasses give a special insight into how the innovative propulsion system will work.

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