Manufacturers and researchers appear to be in agreement: The way to develop electric propulsion for aircraft is to start small. But with the pace at which technology is developing, electric-powered aircraft may not stay small very long.
In September 2010, EADS Innovation Works (IW) and Aero Composites Saintonge (ACS) flew a single-seat, 375-lb. Cri-Cri modified with four electric motors in place of its two 9-hp piston engines. By the end of this year, EADS IW and ACS plan to fly the E-Fan, a two-seat training aircraft purpose-designed around electric-powered ducted propellers.
The Cri-Cri and E-Fan are battery-powered, but in June 2011 EADS teamed with Siemens and Diamond Aircraft to fly the DA36 E-Star, an HK36 Super Dimona motor glider modified to test a hybrid-electric drive system. A year later, in June 2012, the team flew the improved E-Star 2 with an 80-kw (107-hp) serial-hybrid drive system based on a small Wankel engine, generator and batteries.
The E-Fan and E-Star are among “E-aircraft” research projects under way at EADS as it evaluates different approaches to reducing aviation carbon-dioxide emissions. Another is the E-Thrust concept study with Rolls-Royce into a distributed propulsion system in which a turbine engine powers six electrically driven fans integrated into the wings of a commercial airliner to reduce weight and drag.
EADS and Siemens also have partnered with the Technical University of Munich to establish the PowerLab at the nearby Ludwig Boelkow Campus in Ottobrun. This four-year project is dedicated to developing and testing lightweight, high-efficiency generators and motors in the 300-600-kw class.