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Airbus E-Fan Electric Aircraft Makes First Flight

timothy posted about 2 months ago | from the wake-me-when-it-can-do-austin-to-dallas dept.

Transportation 160

An anonymous reader writes "The aviation industry has taken a tentative step toward electric power with the successful maiden flight of the Airbus E-Fan. The manufacturer known for the massive A380 jetliner began testing this small experimental aircraft last week, with the ultimate aim of lowering the huge carbon dioxide emissions from commercial flights. The E-FAN is powered by 120 lithium-polymer batteries, and can fly at speeds up to 136mph. Measuring just 19 feet from nose to tail, the compact aircraft show that Airbus probably isn't ready for commercial zero emissions flight just yet, but it does highlight the potential benefits."

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160 comments

Flight time 1 hour (3, Informative)

beltsbear (2489652) | about 2 months ago | (#47013349)

For this version of the plane.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A... [wikipedia.org]

Re:Flight time 1 hour (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47013537)

Jet fuel has at least 50 times the energy density of lithium batteries [wikipedia.org] , so even accounting for the low efficiency of jet engines, that hour looks about right.

Re:Flight time 1 hour (5, Interesting)

RightwingNutjob (1302813) | about 2 months ago | (#47013823)

Which is why battery-powered planes are stupid. But not necessarily electric propulsion. If you can actually fly an electric engine, you can get experience and improve on it, so that if and when you come up with a better way of providing electrical power (electrochemical fuel cells, fission reactor, Mr. Fusion, very long tether, microwave death ray), you will be able to mate it to a mature technology. I say kudos!

diesel-electric? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47014289)

that's a VERY mature technology...

Re:diesel-electric? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47015569)

What is?

Re:diesel-electric? (1)

Viol8 (599362) | about 2 months ago | (#47015759)

Its also very heavy and less efficient than pure diesel. The only reason its used in railway locomotives is that having an electrical connection to motors in the bogies (trucks to americans) its a LOT simpler and more reliable than mechanical linkages + gearboxes or compressor + hydraulic lines + hydraulic motors.

Re:diesel-electric? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47015853)

Gearboxes and axle shafts for 1000hp+ aren't lightweight either. And I can't really fathom how you'd deal with that amount of power using hydraulics. The high torque isn't the issue, it's the current needed. But yeah, diesel isn't exactly made for plane applications.

Why Not Fuel Cells? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47014013)

So I know that the lack of a commercial hydrogen distribution infrastructure is the main drawback for a move towards hydrogen fuel cell powered electric vehicles. Wouldn't it be much easier to set-up distribution to commercial airports? As such, would't fuel cell based electric aircraft (with battery backup for emergencies) be a more viable solution than battery based electric planes?

Re:Why Not Fuel Cells? (1)

jrumney (197329) | about 2 months ago | (#47014191)

Probably. But this thing is a prototype. The infrastructure for supplying Hydrogen to airports will not be in place until such a plane is commercialised.

Re:Flight time 1 hour (3, Insightful)

Noah Haders (3621429) | about 2 months ago | (#47014079)

agreed, i came here to post this. I looked for total onboard energy storage (kw-hr) but couldn't find it. I think the most relevant question is the equivalent amount of jet fuel it could hold (or diesel since the direct equivalent is a little turboprop plane).

we can do some fermi estimation. the article says that the plane has two engines with combined power of 60kW, and has a flight time of 45 min - 1 hr. if you fly for an hour at full power, that's 216 MJ. More likely the batteries are sized assuming the plane is on average running on just a fraction of full power. (waves hands->) let's say 130MJ battery capacity which is 1 gallon of fuel.

so the e-plane carries 1 gallon-equivalent of energy. Yes, energy density is the main challenge here!

Carbon neutral aviation biofuel ... (3, Insightful)

perpenso (1613749) | about 2 months ago | (#47014157)

Jet fuel has at least 50 times the energy density of lithium batteries ...

And various aircraft ranging from a Boeing 777 to a US Navy F/A-18 have been flown using aviation biofuel, carbon neutral. Its experimental an hellaciously expensive but its a more realistic future.

Re:Flight time 1 hour (1)

Whiternoise (1408981) | about 2 months ago | (#47014305)

What's the cost of jet fuel vs the cost of a recharge? Aircraft are most inefficient in the take off/landing phase where there's a lot of speed adjustments, denser air and so on. This means that a big chunk of emissions comes from short hops e.g. London to Edinburgh, London to Paris - flights that only take an hour, or even less in some cases. Of course the law of diminishing returns bites you for long haul as you need substantially more fuel onboard.

Jet fuel will remain king for long haul, but if you could replace short haul aircraft with swappable batteries that cost virtually nothing to recharge then maybe that's one solution?

This thing carries what looks like a 6kWh battery pack (6kW, runtime is an hour - simple stuff). Electricity is cheap: 6kWh is a pound or two at domestic rates; I pay around 18p per kWh. A Cessna 172 burns something like 30 litres per hour according to The Internet. AVGAS is around ã1.50/litre so we're looking at around ã30 an hour if you find a cheap airfield. That's a mostly apples to apples comparison, scaling to Jets is much more complex, but I think the point stands.

Re:Flight time 1 hour (4, Informative)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 2 months ago | (#47015073)

Jet fuel has at least 50 times the energy density of lithium batteries

But it is also converted to thrust at only about 30% efficiency [wikipedia.org] , while the lithium batteries are over 90%. So that gives a ratio of about 15:1, not 50:1. Of course, that is still pretty bad.

Re:Flight time 1 hour (3, Informative)

Calinous (985536) | about 2 months ago | (#47015789)

Not to mention that the aircraft doesn't have to carry consumed fuel, while it has to carry consumed batteries. And in some cases, aircrafts take off with near empty fuel tanks but with overweight loads and refuel once airborne.

Re:Flight time 1 hour (2)

dbIII (701233) | about 2 months ago | (#47015111)

Yes, but on the other hand it's hard to have a major airport without a big pipe to a nearby oil refinery.

Re:Flight time 1 hour (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47015497)

Jet fueled planes also have the advantage that they get lighter as the flight continues and so require less fuel/minute to maintain their speed and flight level. e-Planes are just as heavy on landing as they were on take-off.

Re:Flight time 1 hour (1)

Barsteward (969998) | about 2 months ago | (#47015551)

so? whats your point? Just graduated from the University of the Bleeding Obvious?

Re:Flight time 1 hour (1)

nickittynickname (2753061) | about 2 months ago | (#47013605)

That's still a good amount of time to be useful for things like island hopping.

Maybe 60 mile effective range ? (2)

perpenso (1613749) | about 2 months ago | (#47013985)

That's still a good amount of time to be useful for things like island hopping.

The article states endurance between 45 minutes and 1 hour. But lets be optimistic and assume 1 hour ...

Not all that time is "available", at *least* 20 minutes should be reserved for safety. Lets subtract 5 minutes at each end for traffic patterns. So we're really looking at something closer to 30 minutes in practice.

Once you factor in taxiing, climb, descent, etc ... maybe a 60 mile one way (plane stays and has time for recharge) or 25 mile round trip (plane immediately returns)?

Now if you are being pessimistic and going with a 45 minute endurance then we're looking at about 15 minutes in practice. Maybe a 25 mile one way flight?

Yes those numbers are not linear. The difference between 1 hour and 45 minute duration is coming entirely out of cruise time. Safety margin, traffic, ascent, descent, taxiing, etc are unchanged.

That said, this aircraft is incredible. But it is only a technology demonstrator.

However it should be awarded bonus points for resembling the A-10 a little. :-)

Maybe as a curiousity or specialty rental (1)

hurfy (735314) | about 2 months ago | (#47014113)

Range probably isn't a real issue as it is offered as a 'trainer'. But a trainer should be paying for itself and this will spend too much time on the charger for that.

But the flight school won't be impressed with 45 min flight and an hour (is that all?) on the ground to recharge. On good days (and this isn't a bad day plane) we turned around the small trainers in minutes for the next student. Unless this is half the price for half the flight time it's just another feel-good product that no one will actually buy.

Now we could have used one of these I suppose, but it would have been 1 of these mixed with several Cessnas and several others. Unique enough to get some use most likely. Any operation with only a couple trainers wouldn't want this as one of them with the limited flight time available. Spending more than half its time on the ground makes a pretty sucky trainer too.

With no info on handling, it may not even be much of a trainer anyway. The Grumman Americans we used were marketed as a 'trainer' also but were not for everyone.

Re:Maybe 60 mile effective range ? (1)

Barsteward (969998) | about 2 months ago | (#47015553)

Also, at the moment, the speed is a bit slow, a current 30 min journey on a jet would be about 2/3 hours on the e-jet

Re:Flight time 1 hour (2)

joe_frisch (1366229) | about 2 months ago | (#47014067)

Even daytime VFR flight rules in the US require 30 minutes of fuel beyond your expected destination. So the 45 minutes to 1 hour turns into 15-30 minutes of usable flight time. At 100mph cruise, and counting the extra fuel burn for climb, it probably has a 30 mile useful range.

BTW - why ducted fans? For low subsonic speeds, unducted props are more efficient, thats why they are used on virtually every low subsonic aircraft. (everything from a piper cub to a commercial twin-turboprop. There are some nice features that they list, but giving up efficiency on such a marginal aircraft seems like pure marketing.

They say 2 seats, but what is the useful load? Can it carry 2 standard adults and their usual flying gear?

Re:Flight time 1 hour (2)

Rich0 (548339) | about 2 months ago | (#47014833)

Ducted fans are quieter I believe. Some speculate that moving to them for light aircraft might help eliminate complaints about small airports, thus helping to ensure that small airports will continue to exist.

Of course, that won't help when the local CEO wants to be dropped off in his Gulfstream.

Re:Flight time 1 hour (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47013613)

And if Slashdot existed back in 1903, they would say that the Wright brothers flight wasn't long enough to be practical. Or they didn't go 175mph, so it's not fast enough.

I like the design. There are gliders that would work well as a platform. You could turn off the electric motors easily and just coast for a while to ride the air currents...

But this needs NASA's highway in the sky project to get it out to the normal pilots and future pilots if there are a lot of them.

Re:Flight time 1 hour (1)

avandesande (143899) | about 2 months ago | (#47013775)

Except that there are chemical limits that put a real ceiling on the energy density of batteries

Re:Flight time 1 hour (1)

Rich0 (548339) | about 2 months ago | (#47014843)

Well, you could use a fuel cell to generate power, and that has the same energy density as whatever fuel it burns. Hydrogen energy density isn't great on a volume basis, but on a mass basis it is just fine (though the container it is stored in adds a lot of mass). For an aircraft I suspect the mass matters more than the volume, which is the opposite of how it is on a car.

Re:Flight time 1 hour (1)

mythosaz (572040) | about 2 months ago | (#47013855)

You could turn off the electric motors easily and just coast for a while to ride the air currents...

...if you weren't loaded up with a giant pile of batteries, sure.

PRACTICAL zero emission aircraft (1)

OglinTatas (710589) | about 2 months ago | (#47013379)

Great range, zero emissions, they've already been tested.

This is very doable.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N... [wikipedia.org]

And I don't see any potential downsides

How is that practical? (2)

SuperKendall (25149) | about 2 months ago | (#47013449)

If it was so practical, why did they wholly cut funding. Seems like they had a long way to go to make the nuclear design feasible to where the crew was safe.

And how many civilians would fly with a nuclear reactor?

Replacing the nuclear reactor with batteries means A LOT of batteries. So I'm not sure how you can claim the whole idea is feasible just from a working nuclear design.

Re: How is that practical? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47013597)

Its NUCULAR, bitch!

Re: How is that practical? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47014513)

ROFL Fail

This is the result of having presidents like _______! Take a guess.

Re:How is that practical? (1)

rogoshen1 (2922505) | about 2 months ago | (#47013961)

just build the entire plane out of laptop batteries, lego style.

Re:How is that practical? (4, Informative)

Savage-Rabbit (308260) | about 2 months ago | (#47015727)

If it was so practical, why did they wholly cut funding. Seems like they had a long way to go to make the nuclear design feasible to where the crew was safe.

And how many civilians would fly with a nuclear reactor?

Replacing the nuclear reactor with batteries means A LOT of batteries. So I'm not sure how you can claim the whole idea is feasible just from a working nuclear design.

According to a Discovery Channel documentary:

1) There were two kinds of engine: Indirect Air Cycle that never got off the drawing board and Direct Air Cycle, that was actually built and tested but it emitted radioactive pollution and even back in the 50s and 60s people started to have second thoughts about a hundred or more things like this making regular operational flights spewing radioactive material over the countryside. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A... [wikipedia.org]
2) What happens when one crashes? (see pollution concerns raised in point 1).
3) Shielding proved to be a problem. The aircraft power plant was only partially shielded because of weight constraints. The crew sat in "radiation shadows". and the power plant radiated in all other directions.
5) Combat aircraft have been known to have very high peace time attrition rates, a case in point being the F-104 at 30%. (see pollution concerns raised in point 1).
4) The thing would have been a logistical and maintenance nightmare.
5) ICBMs became a more capable and practically unstoppable delivery options. ICBMs were also likely to be a much safer weapons package during handling and in day to day peacetime operation.
6) Nuclear submarines became a viable option. Here weight was no issue so reactors could have full shielding and safety mechanisms. Subs were also way stealthier than any bomber so their combat survivability rating was higher and they carried a bigger war-load.

Re:PRACTICAL zero emission aircraft (1)

Ichijo (607641) | about 2 months ago | (#47013455)

And I don't see any potential downsides

Here [wikipedia.org] are some.

Re:PRACTICAL zero emission aircraft (2)

rsborg (111459) | about 2 months ago | (#47013499)

Great range, zero emissions, they've already been tested.

This is very doable.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N... [wikipedia.org]

And I don't see any potential downsides

Did any of those tests actually conclude that they're viable? As I read the wiki, it seems the entire testing involved validating the shielding worked. Did the planes actually get powered by the nuclear engines?

Re:PRACTICAL zero emission aircraft (1)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about 2 months ago | (#47013539)

And I don't see any potential downsides

Except for the infeasiblity of shielding it, sure.

Re:PRACTICAL zero emission aircraft (1)

CheezburgerBrown . (3417019) | about 2 months ago | (#47013699)

That shit was shut down because:

1. It's really hard to shield the crew and be light enough to fly

2. It's really hard to cool the reactor while keeping the radiation contained and not spewing out the exhaust, and be light enough to fly

3. It's impossible to do 1 and 2 at the same time.

Re:PRACTICAL zero emission aircraft (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47013805)

The research models were built in the early- to mid-1950s. Our nuclear engineering and materials science is much, much better now. The engines are displayed outside the EBR1 reactor building, which is itself one of the coolest exhibits ever. It's not everyday you get to stand atop a reactor--in sneakers and shorts--that suffered multiple meltdowns. Or stand in the chamber where they bred plutonium. In any event, my point is that both the model engines and EBR1 are _ancient_.

Modern submarine reactors come in at 20 tons _with_ shielding. I don't think it's infeasible today. I seriously doubt it's economically viable, though. Probably makes more sense to keep the reactor on the ground churning out synthetic jet fuel. But maybe somebody can crunch the numbers, like energy conversion factors, weight of the propulsion mechanism, etc, to tell us conclusively.

Re:PRACTICAL zero emission aircraft (2)

cnettel (836611) | about 2 months ago | (#47013885)

The power output of a Boeing 747 is 140 MW according to a slightly unreliable Wikipedia list [wikipedia.org] . Now, this is probably the total engine output, but you would certainly need a significant fraction of that in electrical power for propellers. Note the other number in that list? A full Nimitz-class destroyer is 190 MW (that seems to be electrical power). A nuclear submarine does not even come close. The cooling environment of that 20 ton reactor is probably quite different, too. You can cool off the rector coolant against the ocean. Not so at 30,000 feet.

Re:PRACTICAL zero emission aircraft (1)

perpenso (1613749) | about 2 months ago | (#47014005)

Water conducts heat 4x faster than air (IIRC from scuba training) but that air at 30,000 feet is 20-30 below zero fahrenheit.

Re:PRACTICAL zero emission aircraft (1)

Deadstick (535032) | about 2 months ago | (#47014143)

The heat flux is proportional to the temp differential between the reactor coolant and the outside coolant. The former is typically around 600F, so another few dozen degrees on the outside coolant ain't hardly much of a difference.

Re:PRACTICAL zero emission aircraft (1)

perpenso (1613749) | about 2 months ago | (#47014183)

Its not just the temperature, its the volume of air flowing over the aircraft. Imagine if the wings, tail, fuselage, etc could function as a heat sink.

Re:PRACTICAL zero emission aircraft (1)

dead_user (1989356) | about 2 months ago | (#47014467)

It wouldn't be able to come to a stop without melting down. Ever. ;)

Re:PRACTICAL zero emission aircraft (1)

Deadstick (535032) | about 2 months ago | (#47014731)

its the volume of air flowing over the aircraft

No, not volume, mass. And water is 800 times as dense as air.

Re:PRACTICAL zero emission aircraft (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47014163)

The electrical output of the Hyperion reactor is 30MW (from 70MW of thermal power), so not too shabby. Also, a 747 on a long haul flights takes well over 150 tons of jet fuel (0.802Kg/L * 200,000L) at takeoff, whereas the reactor is already fully fueled.

The maximum output of a GE90 is 75MW, and a loaded Boeing 777 can still fly on one such engine.

I found a 900MW steam turbine which comes in at 120 tons. I can't find information on the turbine Hyperion used for their numbers, but even if it weighs 120 tons, our reactor plus turbine weighs as much the jet fuel load.

My money says you could build a nuclear powered airplane using current technology. The performance characteristics might suck, but that's beside the point. The argument was that it was impossible.

Sources:
http://nextbigfuture.com/2008/10/power-to-overall-weight-ratio-aspect-of.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_747
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orders_of_magnitude_(power)
http://www.alstom.com/finland/products-and-services/power/nuclear-power/

Grammar are great (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47013407)

the compact aircraft show that Airbus probably isn't ready for commercial zero emissions flight just yet, but it does highlight the potential benefits.

I really thought the grammar was wrong, but as I read it again, it looks like the subject-verb agreement may be just fine.
aircraft may be describing a fleet, and so can be plural, so the word "show" is okay.
isn't can refer to Airbus
it could also refer to that same company
Reading in this way, everything checks out.

Still, the presence of so many nouns and pronouns did result in plenty of room for potential confusion about whether everything was right.

Ducted Fan, Electric Motor (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47013441)

Nothing to see here, folks.

Re:Ducted Fan, Electric Motor (1)

Neuroelectronic (643221) | about 2 months ago | (#47014865)

I agree. Airbus spent some money on a fun little project.

No such thing as 'catastrophic man-made global... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47013491)

...warming'... so why did they have "the ultimate aim of lowering the huge carbon dioxide emissions from commercial flights" ???

Oh, of course, because they're a load of fucking IDIOTS who believe any bullshit the so-called 'experts' tell them about 'carbon dioxide' - that 'deadly' gas... LOL.

www.climatedepot.com

Re: No such thing as 'catastrophic man-made global (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47013619)

For Elmos sake! Dont start your sentence in the headline, faggot!

Re: No such thing as 'catastrophic man-made globa (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47013649)

i know, its sad that u dont understand the interwebz, but plz kill yourself

Re: No such thing as 'catastrophic man-made globa (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47015583)

The headline should be just a quick reference. It should not contain any information that is not present in the body.

how do you charge the batteries? (-1, Flamebait)

Bodhammer (559311) | about 2 months ago | (#47013565)

" lowering the huge carbon dioxide emissions from commercial flight" - Until the energy density of batteries goes up and and we have an efficient, carbon dioxide free way to charge them, I'm not sure I see the value here.

Re:how do you charge the batteries? (1, Insightful)

DexterIsADog (2954149) | about 2 months ago | (#47013589)

" lowering the huge carbon dioxide emissions from commercial flight" - Until the energy density of batteries goes up and and we have an efficient, carbon dioxide free way to charge them, I'm not sure I see the value here.

Exactly. I don't see why they bothered in the first place. They should quit. Now.

Re:how do you charge the batteries? (1)

iggymanz (596061) | about 2 months ago | (#47013615)

in my area, which has the busiest airport in the world some years (other LAX takes the title), we get 55 percent of our power from nuclear energy

Re:how do you charge the batteries? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47013813)

So which is worse - carbon footprint or trying to dispose of nuclear waste. Either way, there is no such thing as a zero-emission engine. Somewhere there is something that is creating waste products that have to be dealt with.

4th gen reactors use nuclear waste as fuel ... (2)

perpenso (1613749) | about 2 months ago | (#47014047)

So which is worse - carbon footprint or trying to dispose of nuclear waste. Either way, there is no such thing as a zero-emission engine. Somewhere there is something that is creating waste products that have to be dealt with.

4th generation nuclear reactors will use the waste of previous generation reactors as fuel. So dealing with current waste is storing it for 30 years until the 4th gen reactors arrive commercially (research reactors are already running) and can burn it up as fuel. The waste from the 4th gen is far less dangerous and only remains hazardous for a few hundred years rather than tens of thousands.

3rd gen reactors are starting commercial construction and while they don't have the waste/fuel benefits of 4th gen they are much safer than previous generations.

Re:how do you charge the batteries? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47013839)

Using electric vehicles (planes, trains or automobiles) is not just about shifting the CO2 emission point.

It allows use of energy sources that would not otherwise be viable for transportation (liquid hydrocarbons have a significant premium over other forms such as gas or solids). In addition land based power facilities have significantly higher efficiencies (open cycle gas turbines are lucky to get 40% efficiency, stick a waste heat recovery boiler on the back end and it is up to 60% efficiency).

The other alternative fuel for air transport I can see would be LNG (liquified natural gas), at that point we need several generations of improvement in scramjet technologies (air breathing rockets anyone?).

Re:how do you charge the batteries? (2)

Rich0 (548339) | about 2 months ago | (#47014855)

Until the energy density of batteries goes up and and we have an efficient, carbon dioxide free way to charge them, I'm not sure I see the value here.

Sort-of agree, and energy density is definitely a problem with batteries in any application. However, batteries make a LOT of sense when it comes to a carbon-neutral way to charge them. With a conventional engine you're almost always limited to fossil fuels. With a battery you could still end up burning coal to charge, but you've decoupled the ultimate power source from the plane so you don't HAVE to use fossil fuels. The battery could be charged by nuclear, even though you could never put a reactor on a plane.

I doubt we'll see an electric airliner anytime soon. Where you might see them is for recreational aircraft. Many pilots just buzz around locally for a while and land, and battery power might be ideal for this - there is no urgency to refuel quickly, maintenance could be lower, aircraft could be quieter, no leaded fuel, cheaper costs, etc.

Re:how do you charge the batteries? (1)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | about 2 months ago | (#47015797)

Solid-oxide fuel cells are a much more efficient way to burn hydrocarbons then conventional combustion engines. An electric airliner that used solid-oxide fuel cells could potentially get more range for the same weight of fuel - and unlike with batteries, you're not trading off fuel mass.

Re:how do you charge the batteries? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47015687)

Would it not be feasible to have a small wind farm near the airport?

Obviously you'd need to place it to the side of the runway rather than under the landing/takeoff flight paths, and given their height there'd probably need to be some distance all the same. But if a small training airfield has its own windfarm a mile down the road with power piped up and storage at the hangars, it seems it could become independent of both the grid and fuel supplies for the most part.

I assume the airfield would still need to store some fuel in case of an external aircraft making an unexpected landing (fuel shortage, mechanical problem, etc), and might even make some money selling fuel to other aircraft that pass through, but being able to switch to electricity for most of its own operations would significantly reduce its operating overheads. Even if we assume an electric aircraft has similar maintenance costs to a traditional aircraft, reduced fuel overheads and the potential to sell excess power to the grid or local households would be a huge boon.

I gotta learn flying (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47013571)

Every time I see these cool machines it just makes me want to learn how to fly. Can you imagine where this is going when improvements in battery technology make the simplicity of electric motors available to this field?

Re:I gotta learn flying (2)

joe_frisch (1366229) | about 2 months ago | (#47014071)

The electric motor really doesn't change the difficulty of flying. In a small training aircraft, engine management is a very minor part of the workload.

E-plane on a treadmill? (4, Funny)

slinches (1540051) | about 2 months ago | (#47013601)

The aft main wheel includes an electric motor with 6kW power, which provides taxiing and acceleration up to 60km/h during the take-off

This may give the "plane on a treadmill" problem a bit more traction.

NOT zero-emissions! (1, Flamebait)

Irate Engineer (2814313) | about 2 months ago | (#47013661)

Electric vehicles are not (necessarily) zero emission - you need to consider where the electricity used to charge the batteries comes from.

All from wind and hydro? Not bad (depends on how much fossil fuel went into the construction of that wind and hydro, so not necessarily zero emission but close). All from the coal plant? Ermmm...not so much.

Re:NOT zero-emissions! (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47013687)

YES zero-emissions! The vehicle emits no carbon dioxide.

Re:NOT zero-emissions! (1, Informative)

jklovanc (1603149) | about 2 months ago | (#47014051)

The fossil fuel based generation plants that send energy to the grid and charge the plane do emit carbon dioxide. Therefore by charging the aircraft carbon dioxide is emitted. Therefore using the plane causes carbon dioxide to be emitted. The plane is not "zero emission" but "lower emission" in another place.

Re:NOT zero-emissions! (1)

Algae_94 (2017070) | about 2 months ago | (#47014461)

But an electric vehicle can be zero emission dependent upon the source of the electric power. The common vernacular "zero emission" refers to the fact that no emissions are coming out of the vehicle while it is in operations. The emissions are decoupled from the vehicle and fall back to the power generation.

If we are going to be this pedantic about it, even an electric vehicle that gets it's power from a solar or hydro plant is not zero emissions because somewhere along the supply chain materials, processing, or assembling of either the vehicle or power plant would have used a power source that produced emissions.

Yes, it is important to realize that there are many variables in transportation that all have some contribution to emissions. Each one of those variables that can have its emissions removed is a good thing.

Re:NOT zero-emissions! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47013749)

Not this stupid argument again... It is getting old, and it proves your intelligence that you keep repeating it.

How much pollution went into making that gallon of fuel? A lot more that never gets accounted for. How about the security of that fuel supply?

Re:NOT zero-emissions! (3, Informative)

jklovanc (1603149) | about 2 months ago | (#47014039)

It is getting old, and it proves your intelligence that you keep repeating it.

It keeps getting repeated because people keep misusing the term "zero emission". When you use an absolute term such as "zero emission" it is either true or false. In this case "zero emission" is false. All electricity from the grid, which is where these aircraft will probably be charged from, has some component of fossil fuel based generation. Therefore by using grid power the aircraft is causing emission; just on another location.

How much pollution went into making that gallon of fuel?

No one claimed fossil fuels were zero emission.

What the poster is trying to get at is to use a more accurate term such as "low emission" which is a true statement.

Re:NOT zero-emissions! (3, Insightful)

vanyel (28049) | about 2 months ago | (#47014523)

The vehicle itself is zero emission. The cost, environmentally and otherwise, of fuel and production, while important, are separate issues that need to be addressed separately.

If you try to solve a large, complex, problem in toto, you will likely fail. Breaking it up into manageable pieces is much more likely to succeed, such as starting with the end user product where you get the most bang for the buck and then work up the chain. Transportation is the biggest problem which will take the longest time to effect a transition, so getting started on it is important.

Once you have the transition to electric vehicles underway, then you can work on the dirtiest of the electric supplies and every time you make the supply cleaner, you automatically make everything powered by that supply cleaner, magnifying the effect of that effort.

Trying to claim a zero emission vehicle isn't zero emission is just trying to confuse issues and holds back progress.

Re:NOT zero-emissions! (2)

jklovanc (1603149) | about 2 months ago | (#47015123)

If you try to solve a large, complex, problem in toto, you will likely fail.

By claiming zero emissions you claim to have solved the complex problem when it is far from the truth. By claiming low emissions you admit the fact that work still needs to be done.

Trying to claim a zero emission vehicle isn't zero emission is just trying to confuse issues and holds back progress.

Trying to claim zero emission when there are emissions confuses issues by claiming victory when victory has yet to be won. It also holds back progress. Why spend money on a fight when it is already won. By sweeping the fact that electric vehicles cause emission under the rug you hide the problem. How about the truth by admitting that electric vehicles cause emissions and we can work harder to decrease those emission further.

Re:NOT zero-emissions! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47015205)

By claiming zero emissions you claim to have solved the complex problem when it is far from the truth.

No, it is very specifically claiming to solve one part of the much larger complex problem. That you are unable to understand the rather specific definition, or are trying to purposely misunderstand it to create a straw man, doesn't change that.

Re:NOT zero-emissions! (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 2 months ago | (#47015605)

Zero emission vehicles don't release any emissions form the vehicle itself, which is a worthwhile improvement because vehicles tend to be operated where people live. Moving the emissions to a central location, away from populations and where they are much easier to capture and clean up is a good thing.

While we won't be seeing all electric zero emission passenger aircraft any time soon, it would be very feasible to create a hybrid aircraft that reduced emissions and noise around the airport itself and was charged largely by solar PV and wind turbines on top of the terminals and hangars.

Re:NOT zero-emissions! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47014083)

How much pollution went into making that gallon of fuel? A lot more that never gets accounted for.

The point is a lot of pollution that "never gets accounted for" also goes into that electricity. If its coal based there is all the hidden costs of stripping the tops off of mountains, strip mining, processing, contamination of local waters, burning, etc.

As a special mining/processing also releases quite a bit of radiation into the atmosphere. More than has ever been accidentally released by US reactors.

Re:NOT zero-emissions! (2)

Rich0 (548339) | about 2 months ago | (#47014871)

All from the coal plant? Ermmm...not so much.

I get your point, but even with fossil fuels it is often better to use a battery. The little engine on a plane tends to be inefficient compared to a massive power plant, and has fewer practical options for emissions controls. A power point is a concentrated emissions point and investments can be made to make it more efficient and to control emissions. Efficiency improves CO2 output, and emissions controls helps get rid of everything else.

So, even with coal power you're still better off getting things onto the grid vs burning gasoline. It also makes it easier to adopt renewable energy.

As a frequent flier... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47013675)

...of quadcopters from 3dr and DJI, I can say that this will be great for those trips where you need to be in the air for, like, 6 minutes.

More lithium batteries in planes (1)

2ms (232331) | about 2 months ago | (#47013731)

Just what the doctor ordered after what happened with the 787.

Re:More lithium batteries in planes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47013785)

But now airbus is doing it so it's "okay", right? (just like carbon fiber)...

Re:More lithium batteries in planes (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47013915)

What happened with the 787 was too much outsourcing too soon. The battery pack was basically developed in isolation by a third-party supplier who promised the world, and then slapped into the aircraft at the last moment. Boeing decided to throw away decades of complex systems management experience and start from scratch.

Actually, considering how big of a change it was they did pretty well. But many of the problems were likely avoidable. They took on too much at the same time--novel construction materials combined with a 180-degree change in how they designed and assembled the product.

45 minutes to one hour of flight time? (1)

Obscene_CNN (3652201) | about 2 months ago | (#47013825)

With only 45 minutes to one hour of flight time I don't see how this is considered viable or even safe.

Re:45 minutes to one hour of flight time? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47013949)

Well if it works like a glider it should be safe!

Bonus points for resembling an A-10 ... (1)

perpenso (1613749) | about 2 months ago | (#47014105)

With only 45 minutes to one hour of flight time I don't see how this is considered viable or even safe.

Well if you consider it a technology demonstrator its pretty impressive, and that is all it is claimed to be. Plus it gets bonus points for resembling an A-10, see pictures from front.

Snakes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47013989)

Does it have snakes?

Poof.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47014311)

I fly electric r/c planes with li-poly batteries and I've seen what can happen when one goes belly-up and start spewing fire like a flame thrower....

Electric Vehicles are NOT ZERO EMISSIONS (2)

EmagGeek (574360) | about 2 months ago | (#47014525)

Can we please stop trying to insinuate that electric vehicles do not have a carbon footprint?

Re:Electric Vehicles are NOT ZERO EMISSIONS (1)

NIK282000 (737852) | about 2 months ago | (#47015065)

Never! We will keep it up until every one re-buys everything they already own, THEN it will come out that they not only have a carbon foot print but it's bigger than that of the new hemp powered hot air balloons!

Re:Electric Vehicles are NOT ZERO EMISSIONS (3, Insightful)

dave420 (699308) | about 2 months ago | (#47015535)

The vehicles themselves ARE zero-emission as they don't emit any CO2. The power source is a different matter. It seems you are confusing zero-emissions and carbon footprints.

Want (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47014795)

Test platform for them, but would make a great weekend flyer. If battery tech double or tripled capacity, this would actually be useful.

Re:Want (1)

Thagg (9904) | about 2 months ago | (#47015009)

Yeah, if you just replace the back seat occupant with an equivalent mass of batteries, you could get twice the range.

"but it does highlight the potential benefits" (1)

cowwoc2001 (976892) | about 2 months ago | (#47015049)

It's as beneficial as sailing on top of a rock. No carbon footprint there either!

Add solar to extend range? (2)

under_score (65824) | about 2 months ago | (#47015113)

I have no idea if this would help, but with developments in solar technology, would it make a significant difference if the tops of the wings, fuselage, tail and fan ducts were all solar panels? Seems like a simple thing to do to help with range... maybe not done because it's not reliable.

Re:Add solar to extend range? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47015599)

Interesting question, but it is really hard to say. I'm not an expert on this field, and I doubt many slashdotters are.

Re:Add solar to extend range? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47015927)

I'd imagine weight, wing strength and maintenance would offset any gains made that way. The aircraft isn't made using traditional materials, and it may be that integrated panels would have forced them to change the wing structure in a way that added too much weight or made them unsafe (at least as far as relevant regulations are concerned).

You can't just bolt on solar panels without significantly changing the aircraft's profile either; they'd have to be integrated early in the design stages.

Headwind brings the total distance down a bit (1)

ozratman (1139715) | about 2 months ago | (#47015225)

At least having no avgas there will be a few less items on the checklist to do before you ditch.

Let's just say... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47015487)

...for argument's sake, that CO2 is discovered to be an insignificant contributor to what is an almost totally natural, climatic variation. What then, will all of this posturing have achieved?

Let's just say... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47015737)

Let's just say, for the argument sake, that fossil fuels are available in limited quantities. When we run out of them, how do you make your Cessna 172 fly?

Re:Let's just say... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 months ago | (#47015961)

Cost cutting?

Regardless of whether you believe in climate change (there's almost no argument about it amongst researchers, just the media), the cost of fuels is only going up. There's already significant power generating capacity that isn't dependant on those fuels, which means the cost of electricity is not rising as quickly as the cost of the fuels.

Therefore, it's only a matter of time before electric vehicles are significantly cheaper over their lifetimes than traditional FF vehicles.

In some places, that time is already here. The US is (or can be) self sufficient for fuel production, hence fuel costs are not rising as quickly there. In many parts of Europe (which is where Airbus is based, remember?) fuel has to be imported, and increased demand from China is making the cost of those imports grow much faster. Power generation is largely decoupled from FFs (there's generally more nuclear, wind, and geothermal capacity in Europe).
In these regions EVs already make sense if their buy-in cost is close enough to that of traditional vehicles.

Aircraft are an odd case; they typically cost a lot to start with, have high running costs, and are kept in service for decades. Even if your triple the original buy-in cost, a saving of 50% on fuel costs as they stand today would pay for the difference over the aircrafts service life. As it happens, the running costs are even more in the EVs favour; an hour of flight time with a traditional aircraft costs about $60 in fuel. With the EV, that 60KWh battery costs on the order of $10 to $15 per flight hour.

The only downside is the charging time, but even that's not the big issue it looks like at first. Aircraft have a number of checks that must be done after, and before every flight. The 1 hour charging time quoted isn't much of a problem in that respect, since if it's plugged in while the checks and maintenance are being done, it's going to be ready by the time the crew are anyway.

Last point; the airport can build out wind or solar capacity to reduce those costs even more.

This technology has no future (1)

Issarlk (1429361) | about 2 months ago | (#47015819)

I share the opinion of numerous previous posters, when Airbus shows us their electric 380 with 45 minute of flight time, they'll be laughted at. 45 minutes just isn't enough, they should drop that stupid electric fan idea.

45 minutes flight - 30 minutes safety margin (1)

sberge (2725113) | about 2 months ago | (#47015909)

AFAIR, you're not allowed to plan a flight with less than 30 minutes of fuel left at landing. So this is for very short hops indeed. Source: Have a (mostly unused) pilot's license.
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