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EADS unveils its vision for the future of aviation


June 19, 2013

Airbus helped EADS to incorporate an E-Thrust-style propulsion system into an airplane design, the eConcept (Photo: Gizmag)

Airbus helped EADS to incorporate an E-Thrust-style propulsion system into an airplane design, the eConcept (Photo: Gizmag)

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EADS has once again taken to the Paris Air Show to present a vision of commercial aviation in 2050. Developed in partnership with Rolls-Royce to increase the efficiency of future airliners, its E-Thrust concept is a hybrid electric propulsion system that EADS says could cut fuel consumption, emissions and noise. EADS and Airbus have baked the E-Thrust into an aircraft design, which EADS calls the eConcept.

Described as an intermediate step on the road to all-electric aircraft, the E-Thrust is a "Distributed Propulsion" system comprised of numerous electric fans arranged in clusters along the length of each wing. However, the battery (referred to as a storage system, but we'll call it a battery for convenience) powering the fans is charged by an onboard "advanced gas power unit," which is why EADS is calling this a hybrid system.

Applied to the eConcept, though the best number of fans is still to be worked out, Airbus is confident that a single larger gas power plant is better than several smaller ones. This would allow a unified exhaust duct and particulate filter, and would apparently reduce noise overall.

One advantage of the E-Thrust system is that the additional power required for take-off can be met by charging the batteries on the ground (and theoretically from a clean, renewable source). The gas power plant only need serve when the eConcept is in the air, allowing this component to be downsized.

When cruising, the gas power plant powers the fans direct, though the battery is also recharged to power an emergency landing should the gas system fail. In descent, the fans and gas power plant are shut down, the eConcept effectively becoming a glider. However, as the fans start to turn of their own accord, electrical power could conceivably be generated, topping up the battery if required. Though the gas system is restarted for landing, this is solely as a backup to power the fans should something go wrong with the battery.

It's claimed that a Distributed Propulsion system allows an increase in bypass ratio, which, in a turbofan engine, is the ratio of air mass drawn through the fan but which bypasses the combustion chamber to the mass of air which passes through it. Whereas a 12:1 ratio is achievable today, EADS claims that ratios of 20:1 or better are possible with this system, allowing reductions in fuel consumption. However, EADS calls this an "effective bypass ratio" because, unlike in a turbofan engine, the airstreams flowing into the fans and into the combustion chamber are completely separate.

EADS also argues that this distributed approach affords much more leeway in airframe design. Forms which reduce weight and drag, decrease the size of the vertical tail plane and improve weight distribution should be possible, it says.

To make the E-Thrust system viable, superconducting technology would be required to reduce the size of the electrical components, combined with next-generation electrical storage technology (EADS has its eye on Lithium-air batteries) capable of energy densities over 1,000 Wh/kg.

E-Thrust falls under EADS' Distributed Electrical Aerospace Propulsion (DEAP) project, which seeks to meet the targets set out in the European Commission's report Flightpath 2050 – Europe's Vision for Aviation. Specifically, the report calls for a 75 percent reduction in C02 emissions, 90 percent reductions in NOx emissions, and 65 percent reduction in noise levels by 2050, compared to the year 200.

Though tempting to dismiss this as purely speculative, EADS could have presented an all-out electric airliner covered head to toe in solar panels (In fact, EADS did present an all-electric concept called the VoltAir at Paris in 2011). That it's put forward what amounts to a stop-gap system in itself lends credence to the proposal. People appear to be thinking very seriously about the evolution of commercial flight.

A mockup of EADS' Tropospheric Airship, a concept for arctic observation (Photo: Gizmag)

EADS also used the Paris Air Show to show off its Tropospheric Airship concept, envisaged as an observation aircraft for polar regions, and a mockup of its E-Fan all-electric two-seater airplane.

Source: EADS

About the Author
James Holloway James lives in East London where he punctuates endless tea drinking with freelance writing and meteorological angst. Unlocking Every Extend Extra Extreme’s “Master of Extreme” achievement was the fourth proudest moment of his life. All articles by James Holloway

Seriously? This is the best of what we have to look forward to in air transport in 2050? Guess where flyers will flock to given the choice between super / hypersonic travel vs. slow-boat, yet highly efficient, electric air travel.

We should be shooting for speed and efficiency, not one or the other.

Michael Russer

Waa,.. integrated wing ideas slowly starting to come to the viable front. Some of these designs are gorgeous.


I won't be surprised if this concept is a dead end. It looks more like EADS needs to show it's shareholders something to keep them happy. Turbo fan jets are amongst the most efficient petro-chemical engines available. Putting further energy conversion points (electric generators to power electric motors) in the propulsion chain is going to cost efficiency not enhance it.


@Michael Russer What about efficient ALL electric AND hypersonic? Elon Musk thinks it can be done.


@KushSmoka sorry but if Elon Musk thinks all electric planes are viable then you shouldn't listen to Elon Musk. Hypersonic or not electric planes are toys and nothing more. There is no and will never be a chemical or mechanical battery to allow an all electric passenger plane. Perhaps you could generate a large amount of electricity with a hydrogen fuel sell, although unlikely it is possible, that really isn't an "all electric" idea.

Regardless the pictures are good for a laugh, thank you gizmag and EADS for commercially mocking the future of air travel.

One last thing why do people seem to assume that electric motors are somehow super efficient? Including a storage system their power to weight ration is horrible. Heavier plains require more lift, more lift creates more drag, more drag equals slower, less efficient flying.

Hydrocarbon fuels are and will be the power souce of choice until a new unheard of fuel/energy source is created. Nuclear rockets and Ion Thrusters are more realistic than an electric fan.

Michael Mantion

Someone should check the EADS' Distributed Electrical Aerospace Propulsion (DEAP) project and fire the ones responsible for it. This type of series hybrid is heavy and the expected advantages are hard to realize, only Fisker Karma was using it with lukewarm results. An on the ground the weight is a smaller issue, than on air. Common sense not required.


Wow! those are some pretty negitive comments. In order to move forward with new engineering concepts you must explore every avenue. This isn't only about speed or the most efficient engine. We are faced with an emissions problem. These concepts are at least a step toward addressing that. If you think it's nuts, just look at F1 where and electric system is used for a horse power boost and it works.


@Michael mantion, yeah and airplanes and space travel will never exist... oh wait, they do. How do you know what future battery/energy storage technologies will exist, lithium/air, battery/capacitor hybrids, etc. Also there are things at play besides the energy storage, some of which Elon Musk goes into here, www.youtube.com/watch?v=uegOUmgKB4E&t=38m6s

Why would you even compare nuclear rockets and ion thrusters to electric fans? first 2 are for spacecraft, last one is for airplanes.... "apples and oranges."


@Michael Russer

If the public is given a choice between super / hypersonic travel vs. slow-boat, yet highly efficient, electric air travel, then the bulk of them will choose the most affordable option. "Show me the money!"


The idea of a battery powered airliner is ludicrous. The batteries would have to achieve an energy density not merely equal to kerosene but exceed it by at least on order of magnitude. Batteries that weigh no more than the reserve fuel that an airliner of the size would carry has to power the whole flight because batteries do not get lighter when the power is used; tanks of liquid hydrocarbons do. By the time you have increased the strength of the landing gear to land the airliner loaded with cargo and a full fuel load thy weigh so much that the plane will never leave the ground. The Boeing 747 has a fuel tank that holds as much as an Olympic sized swimming pool, THAT THEY DO NOT FILL for a mere transatlantic hop; check out the size of the battery in the model. powering a plane by unicorn farts is a more practical idea. All you have to do is genetically modify the horses and capture and process their flatulence.

re; KushSmoka420

His word choice saw poor but a jet is an air breathing rocket and flight weight atomic powered jets have been built. Also there is theoretical basis for an ion airplane engine, the Ionic Breeze works on the same principal.


Growing population pressures are producing more pollution and ways to ameliorate it. Nuclear rockets are flying bombs with the potential to make large areas uninhabitable. These new designs are meant to stop pollution, not multiply it by a thousandfold.

It is unconscionable how some people and corporations will adopt any technology, no matter how dangerous or damaging to our health and our besieged environment, for shortsighted profits.

If they want to profit from nuclear rockets, they should have to pay liability insurance for ALL the harm an accident could cause.

Meantime, I am glad EADS and Airbus are trying to address the great problem of air and noise pollution from airliners.


I would think that by 2050 fuel cells and or nuclear fusion would be mature. I guess they were being conservative with only slight advances in technology.

I don't think Moore's law applies to this type technology but if you compare the technology 37 years ago in 1976 to todays technology it isn't too much of a stretch to think one of the above technologies or a completely new technology would be mature by 2050.

If you look at the curve of technology progress it just keeps getting steeper and steeper.

I often recall chats I had with my grandmother who was born in 1878 and died in 1969. At five years old she traveled with her family by covered wagon from Boone Iowa to Dodge City Kansas. She said she got mad at her older brother for shooting a bird off a telegraph line with a slingshot. They must have followed the telegraph line to stay on course across the prarie. By the time she was in her eighties she was traveling by jet.

In my own lifetime I have seen even faster development. I was born in 1941 and we didn't have a television station in the middle of Iowa until 1950. We bought our 12" Zenith round screen shortly thereafter. My grandmother outdid us by buying a huge 16" Zenith round screen a few months later.

In 1961 I got a job with the first commercial laser company in the world. Most people had never heard of a laser.

I'm fairly sure I won't be around to see the state of technology in 2050 since I would turn 109 that year. I can only hope that before I die I will fly in an electric airplane. I wonder what the TSA will be doing to upset passengers by then. Maybe by then we'll have world peace and not have to worry about it. But don't hold your breath. Maybe by then the drones will fly into the face of the bad guys and perform an instant lobotomy using a laser.

Mr E

Now that we are talking about hybrid airplanes and stuff... they really could use regenerative braking, like a KERS system. This way, the energy invested in gaining altitude could (partially) be recovered during descent flight, prior to touch down. As someone mentioned above, the overall capacity of the batteries is key.

Alfred Max Hofbauer

Its long past time that airplanes are launched with catapults (mag lev) or have a undercarriage hydrogen burning stage one that lifts them to 30,000 ft.

John Frodo

When science/technology are subordinated to politics, EADS type projects are the result. This is not innovation. It is a desperate attempt to justify the tons of taxpayer money wasted on a politically correct "dog & pony" show. For example, first "...EADS did present an all-electric concept...", then two years later, "That its put forward...a stop-gap system in itself lends credence to the proposal." Really? I regard the "stop-gap system" as just the opposite. VoltAir and ZEHST are put on hold while a compromise hybrid system is proposed. How does it "lend credence" when EADS takes a step back?

Consider history. Which works better? Private investment or public?

Don Duncan

What should tell you something about the EADS "experts" is the claim that lithium-air batteries will be the magic bullet that makes this possible. Any metal-air battery has the same problem as air breathing engines: less air at high altitude, which means less power production, so the 1kwh/kg isn't going to happen.

Pat Kelley

re: Don Duncan In considering history, the US Interstate Highway System, the US Space Program and the US development of nuclear energy come to mind. Please provide a comparable scale private development projects as you indicate confidently there are some.


speed up R&D to 2040? Be awesome ride & efficient & museumize the 747,757,777,787, Airbus 320, 330.

Stephen Russell

"One advantage of the E-Thrust system is that the additional power required for take-off can be met by charging the batteries on the ground (and theoretically from a clean, renewable source) "

So, take off power is provided by a ground based source. Either this or the catapult or maglev suggested by some moron. Obviously not thought up by a pilot!

Things will get really messy on a missed approach and go round! (splat!)


2050!!!! I'm only 27 years young today! I'll be 64 years old in 2050!!! Lol potentially commercial airlines will not even have a market in the year 2050 lol People's cars will all be flying by then... Or might I say Vorping... I.E just as you get in your car today and drive down the street from your home.. You will be able to travel to any where in the world from the comfort of your home doorstep.. EADS great design but its so far over due its not even funny.. Love your work, love the design, love everything about it! Yet the probabilty of this tech being developed / cutting edge by the year 2050 stands just as good of chance as EADS even being still in business 37 years from now... Take Steve Jobs advice! Allow the fact that you know your going to die inspire you to get this built by 2020 and no later!! Good Luck


@JPLAZ1912 That's a good point about commercial airlines not even being around. Although, I don't think it will be because of flying cars even if they are available.

I'd like to see Evacuated Tube Transport (ETT) be built. New York to LA in 45 minutes, New York to Beijing in 2 hours. That definitely would put commercial airlines out of business. I live in California, and am really disappointed that they are going to be wasting our (taxpayers) money on the high speed rail project with an estimated cost of $60 Billion. It will be the slowest and highest $/mile bullet train in the world. I'd much rather see them build the worlds first ETT for 1/10 the cost.


re; Rohn

The US Interstate Highway was built to move troop and military material but other roads have been built by private investment buying the land without the ability to take it over the owners objections and made a profit until the government changed the rules.

The US space program NASA lost money on every commercial launch without counting the investment costs that brought them to having a launchable rocket. Private space launch companies are headed for profitability charging much less per pound to orbit including investment costs.

Nuclear energy an nuclear weapons are so intermingled that it is difficult to separate but if the environmental regulations were clear and did not require miles of paperwork* to comply with privately owned nuclear power plants would be producing Carbon Free electricity at lower cost than coal generated electricity.

Lay the pages end to end and see how far you have gone. It doesn't require mechanics filling out hundreds of forms daily to keep them from pouring used oil down the sewer. Slowburn

I don't know much about aeronautic engineering and history of airline innovation, but it seems to me that this sector of industry is stagnant, bloated, and in dire need of a reboot. But then I guess that's what happens when you get companies so deep in bed with gov't that you can't tell where one begins and the other ends.


re; KushSmoka420

How is an ETT that requires full tunnels for the whole length suppose to cost less to built than conventional High Speed Rail tracks?


@slowburn Size is the key. As opposed to trains, ETT capsules (cars) would be MUCH smaller than train cars, and very light weight (~400lbs). The tubes would be somewhere in the area of 1.5M (diameter). Because of this, you'd use 1/20 the material.

The much cheaper cost is also assuming large scale implementation so you can take advantage of economies of scale. This is also assuming you don't cross any oceans or other large bodies of water.


In regards to crossing water, obviously you'd have to cross water somewhere, to get to Europe/Asia. That place would be the Bering Strait. Anytime you would cross water the prices would HUGELY increase so by limiting it to very few spots, it wouldn't be a huge factor to the overall costs of a world wide system.


re; KushSmoka420

To build the ETT you still have to build the roadbed so the cost there will be the same but instead of ties and rails you have to build a tunnel with an internal circumference of 4.7 meters and given the loads it will be under the tube wall would probably mostly be made of 20 cm thick reinforced concrete. There has to be large vacuum pumps. Also the necessary rare earth magnates are blindingly expensive.

The high speed rail project is a political motivated boondoggle but it is still far cheaper than an ETT.


@Slowburn You wouldn't necessarily need a roadbed. Much of it could be built on pillars/posts. It would look more like an oil pipeline than a traditional train track. The pillars could all be mass produced in a factory cutting down on cost as opposed to building a roadbed. As for mass production the same goes for many of the components.

As far as force, don't forget the extremely light weight (~400lbs) of a capsule as opposed to a train car weighing however many tons.

This has all been calculated out by engineers. Even if they're off by a factor of 3 that would still be slightly less than highspeed rail. EVEN, if cost the same as high speed rail, its MUCH better (faster, runs 24/7 with no set schedule, ETC) so it will still have MUCH greater value. But It would be cheaper than a bullet train which only increases it's value more.

more info here: http://www.et3.com/faq

and BTW, this is only looking at the construction costs, its not even taking into consideration, the MUCH lower costs of operation and maintenance. Also consider the huge value you'd get by GREATLY increasing the efficiency of the power grid by doubling the use of the tubing network by incorporating superconducting power lines.


@Slowburn - I have to agree with @Rohn. As inefficient as it can be, Government can do things the private sector can't because it doesn't have to make a profit. Commercial space companies are now using the developments made by NASA for a fraction of the cost because they didn't have to develop it. But someone had to and that someone was always going to be Government.

@ezeflyer - You really need to learn the difference between nuclear power and nuclear weapons. If you were really worried about the environment, you'd spare a thought for all of the people killed in coal mining and the damage that does. How many people has nuclear POWER killed over the years? I'll give you a clue: you could count them on your fingers.


Nice model and good idea, but as it is presented it runs into a problem with ETOPS theory and practice. Unless the battery can carry the airliner from the middle of the atlantic/pacific to the nearest emergency airport, you NEED a second main engine. So just the one big super efficient engine? Not going to happen any time soon.

A pure electric airliner is probably optomistic for a long time into the future. To match the 5TJ energy capacity of a 747, you'd need a 6m diameter 176ton carbon nanotube flywheel spinning at 1MHz; with zero safety margin. This is possible, but not necessarily a good idea.

John Routledge
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