Airbus Group is entering the light aircraft market with plans to produce two electric-powered general aviation and training aircraft by the end of the decade.
The two-seat E-Fan 2.0 and four-seat 4.0 aircraft will be produced by a new Airbus subsidiary, VoltAir, in a new factory at Bordeaux’s Merignac airport in France. Airbus Group Innovations has led the program with the development of an electric-powered technology demonstrator called the E-Fan.
Airbus Innovation is presenting the E-Fan prototype here at Farnborough as the first step toward producing an electric-powered 80- to 90-seat regional airliner in the next 20 years.
The E-Fan prototype, which first flew on March 11, has embarked on a planned 50-hour-long flight test program. The longest flight has been 37 min., and engineers hope to achieve 1 hour of endurance.
A pair of 30kw electric motors ¬– each driving an eight-bladed shrouded fan to improve static thrust – propel the entirely composite aircraft.
Power is provided by 127 kg. of 250-volt lithium-ion polymer batteries from Kokam in South Korea built into the wing. The E-Fan, which has a maximum takeoff weight of 580 kg., is currently flying with 50 kg. of telemetry and test equipment.
Airbus Group is funding the prototype and the flight demonstration program with assistance from the French civil aviation authority (DGAC) and several regional development funds.
Production E-Fan 2.0 and 4.0 aircraft are envisioned to have battery endurance of 2 hours. But engineers are developing what they call a range extender, a kerosene-driven generator which charges the batteries in flight, potentially providing an additional 1.5 hours of endurance on the E- Fan 4.0 aircraft.
The schedule calls for first flight of the E-Fan 2.0 by the end of 2017, and the larger E-Fan 4.0 two years later. The company believes aircraft prices will be competitive with similar-sized piston-engined aircraft. Operating costs are targeted at one-third of traditional piston-engine light aircraft, with a ground-based charging unit able to bring the aircraft back to full endurance in just 1.5 hours.
Engineers say they still need to produce significant enhancements in battery performance in order to achieve the required levels of endurance. But Airbus Group CEO Tom Enders points out that in the time it took for hydrocarbon prices to double, the power-density of batteries tripled, and there is high confidence that battery capabilities will continue to increase.
Partners in Airbus’ electric aircraft programs include Aerocomposites Saintonge (for the E-Fan), Siemens, Diamond Aircraft, Daher-Socata, Safran and Zodiac Aerospace.
Daher-Socata has contracted with Airbus to design and manufacture the prototypes and to see both models through to certification. The company is best known for its TBM series of very fast executive and utility turboprop aircraft.