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E-Fan electric aircraft makes first public flight

By

April 30, 2014

From left to right: Didier Esteyne – E-Fan Pilot Francis Deborde, Gérant of ACS Dominique ...

From left to right: Didier Esteyne – E-Fan Pilot Francis Deborde, Gérant of ACS Dominique Bonnaire, E-Fan Pilot Arnaud Montebourg, Minister for Economy, Industrial Renewal and Digital Economy Patrick Gandil, Directeur Général de l’Aviation Civile (DGAC) Jean Botti, CTO Airbus Group (Photo: Patrick Bernard)

Image Gallery (19 images)

Manned electric-powered aircraft have made record-breaking flights and turned more than a few heads in the past few years, and it's not a trend that's likely to slow down. Last week, the E-Fan electric trainer airplane developed by the Airbus Group made its first public flight before a collection of French dignitaries. Currently a demonstrator for electric aircraft technology, Airbus says that is will be used as the basis for building a new pair of electric training aircraft models.

Developed by Airbus Group (formerly EADS) working with a consortium of European aerospace companies, the E-fan made its first non-public flight at the Bordeaux Mérignac airport on March 11. The project evolved from the Cri-Cri electric plane, which Airbus used as a test bed and flying laboratory for developing the battery and energy management technology used in the E-Fan.

Built with an all-composite construction, the E-fan is 6.7 m (22 ft) long and has a wingspan of 9.5 m (31 ft). From the outside, it almost looks like a toy jet aircraft with a pair of nacelles that aren't jets, but two ducted, variable pitch fans spun by two electric motors with a combined power of 60 kW. The ducting increases the thrust while reducing noise, and by centrally mounting them, the fans provide better control.

The first public flight of the electric E-Fan

Powering the fans are a series of 250 V lithium-ion polymer batteries made by KOKAM of the Republic of Korea. These batteries are mounted in the inboard section of the wings and carry enough charge for up to one hour of flight and can be recharged in one hour. For those worried about the “recharge” light coming on while up in the air, there’s also a backup battery onboard for emergency landings.

A key technology on the E-Fan is its E-FADEC energy management system, which automatically handles the electrical systems. According to Airbus, this simplifies system controls and, since E-Fan is a trainer, eases the workload of instructors and students.

Artist's impression of E-Fan 2.0 and 4.0

Artist's impression of E-Fan 2.0 and 4.0

A neat little party trick for the E-Fan is it’s undercarriage, which is made up of two retractable wheels fore and aft and two more under the wings. The aft wheel is powered by a 6 kW electric motor, which not only powers the plane while taxiing, but also accelerates it on takeoff to 60 km/h (37 mph), which relieves some of the burden on the flight motors.

Airbus Group plans to exhibit the E-fan at ILA Berlin and the Farnborough Air Show. Airbus will further develop the E-Fan technology demonstrator and to produce and market two versions of the aircraft by a subsidiary named VoltAir called E-Fan 2.0, which will carry two passengers and the e-Fan 4.0, which will carry four. While the 2.0 will be battery powered, the 4.0 will be a hybrid for greater range.

The video below introduces the E-Fan.

Source: Airbus

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past.   All articles by David Szondy
19 Comments

Brilliant to see this, surely the shape of things to come....the powered undercarriage wheel is an innovation; how about an inverted trolley car pickup to a live rail on the runway? This could reduce onboard power consumption for take off and also enable battery recharging whilst awaiting ATC green light. If this gave tracking problems maybe a broad conductive strip could work. Eventually of course you would use a linear accelerator.

riczero-b
30th April, 2014 @ 01:27 am PDT

Great idea and nice to see a large company like this take the first (commercial) steps into another era of aviation.

Bob809
30th April, 2014 @ 01:46 am PDT

A far better idea than Solar Impulse, whatever astonishing SI is...

Airbus involved in a more realistic approach, almost as good for future technological implements with a cost divides by thousands compared with SI.

However a far less "breaking news" for the medias worlwide !

watersworm
30th April, 2014 @ 02:23 am PDT

Deja vu! It's the Bede BD5E for the New Age!

WagTheDog
30th April, 2014 @ 05:49 am PDT

I think that is not only green but also cool. I think a fuel cell would help recharge the batteries but also give extra energy when needed. Thin flexible light weight solar panels could help recharge the batteries.

BigWarpGuy
30th April, 2014 @ 05:59 am PDT

P.Specs lite ? One hour. OK AND: Speed? Range? Carrying capacity?

Max altitude? Nos. of passengers ?

How am I supposed to be impressed ?

Chris Goodwin
30th April, 2014 @ 09:11 am PDT

Now how did they screw this up so badly? Just by going to more normal props they would have far more thrust/wt.

smaller dia, ducted or not, is less eff because having to turn so much faster in the fan/small version, it loses too much to air friction.

Turning 2 4x's the dia props gives almost 4x's the thrust/hp. Thus why helicopters have large, slow turning rotors.

And in an EV plane you can't afford to give that much up. Just that alone could double range.

Nice motor the landing gear trick though by no means new.

jerryd
30th April, 2014 @ 09:22 am PDT

Airbus raided the coffee-fund and spent the money on a technological place-holder. There is nothing revolutionary or even evolutionary about the airframe or prime mover(s). Current battery technology is the limiting factor which is not scalable, nor is it practical using any other metric. Let's watch for the advent of hyper-capacitors that are due as a result of developments in the field of nano-technology. That will change aviation (both commercial and private) overnight.

Paulinator
30th April, 2014 @ 09:54 am PDT

Great progress... now for the next step; reduce the size and weight of the battery and utilize a developing new on board generation technology that is as efficient as hydroelectric. This will enable a smaller battery to last significantly longer while providing the same relative thrust. The result is significantly increased range. Airbus: Let us show you how this is possible.

Independent Energy LLC
30th April, 2014 @ 10:17 am PDT

Looks a lot like the James Bond Silver Bullet!

Something a accrued to me when I read that the rear wheels has electric motors that helps getting it up to take-off speed and reduces some of the load on the engines... Why couldn't the same think be done with Commercial Airliners?

The additional weight of the batteries would be offset by the less fuel needed for taxing and take-offs. Electric Motors has instant torque and the technology has advanced to the point where they are strong and small enough to be placed in the wheels.

As a bonus; regenerative breaking can help recharge the batteries every time the plane lands!

kelvint63
30th April, 2014 @ 10:18 am PDT

Longer wings & parachute for the aircraft and I'd have my dream BD5 self-launching Sail Plane. For longer soaring maybe charge it back up with pv cells on the wings. Dream on

jrbgreywolf
30th April, 2014 @ 11:40 am PDT

Amazing! Shame we could not have heard what the plane sounds like from outside, and inside the plane.

steveraxx
30th April, 2014 @ 04:43 pm PDT

@ BigWarpGuy - How does intorducing more and more electric vehicles equate to being green? Where is all the extra electricity going to come from? Regardless of how it is accomplished (new power plants built or capacity of existing plants increased) more fuel will be needed to meet the need for more electric power. This increased demand for fuel will be detrimental to the environment, regardless of the type.

Wind - More turbines will have to be built.

Water - More water will have to be diverted, possibly more dams built or utilizing wave power.

Fossil fuel - Everybodys favorite punching bag.

Nuclear - Nobody wants to even discuss this possibility.

Rt1583
30th April, 2014 @ 07:57 pm PDT

Sounds very interesting, but like some other people commenting here, I'd like to see more specs.

Critically, what are the typical range and cruise-speed? Presumably, it has a long take-off roll (or else why add the powered wheel to assist take-off?).

I think moving to all-electric systems is a great idea, and would like to see battery technology improve to challenge the energy density (joules per kg) of avgas.

Before anyone gets too critical, this may be a small, but it's an important step -- give it a few years of R&D, and this could be the future of General Aviation.

Damien
30th April, 2014 @ 09:42 pm PDT

Powered wheels, have been described by far-seeing aviation experts over the years. Burt Rutan put a lot of thought into this one. (Wheel propulsion is much more efficient at low speed than a ducted fan or open propeller.)

We are seeing a 1 hour endurance 2 place trainer aircraft. As they have admitted, for longer endurance they need a fuel powered generation system, (or solar though that would need a lot more wing area for panels, which would increase the drag at any significant speed).

Expect to see a Gas Turbine based APU for the power source, remembering that if the take-off roll and initial climb is performed using stored power (battery or other storage device) plus generated power, the gen-set can be sized for max cruise efficiency, not as is currently the case for max power which is only needed for the first couple of minutes of a normal flight.

As others have said open props are more efficient at the speed likely to be seen with this aircraft, however the public doesn't have as much faith in props as in "jets". One downside of an open prop is that it must be larger for the same static thrust (packaging problems), on the downsides with a fan-duct is that at high speed the fan duct increases overall drag, Although fan-tip sonic noise is much easier to reduce if it is shrouded.

In Engineering everything is a trade-off.

MD
30th April, 2014 @ 10:49 pm PDT

@ Rt1583

"How does intorducing more and more electric vehicles equate to being green? Where is all the extra electricity going to come from?"

A little known fact (so I'll forgive you - this time)…

It takes about 6-7kWh of electricity to refine a gallon of fuel. 6-7kWh of electrical energy can take an average car about 25 miles.

How far can an average internal combustion engined car go on a gallon of fuel? Answer: ~25 miles.

As most fuel is refined 'locally' and most electricity is generated 'locally' too, you do the maths! MW

mwinlow
1st May, 2014 @ 03:07 am PDT

Wow a coal powered airplane.

Slowburn
2nd May, 2014 @ 08:23 pm PDT

Why on earth continue with that PR type back-ground music? The most dramatic innovation is the craft's low noise emission!

In other ICE aircraft the roar of the engines is faded way down on the soundtrack and the bgm used as a 'sugar coating' 'feel-good element.

Peter Miller
3rd May, 2014 @ 10:09 am PDT

@ mwinlow - I never said that electric motors were less efficient than petrol motors.

My point goes to the increased demand for production of electricity as more and more electrically driven vehicles come on line. Where is the break even point between the two technologies? Where is the tipping point of electric power production being as detrimental as relying on petrol motors?

Rt1583
10th June, 2014 @ 04:51 am PDT
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