Hybrid-electric planes may be touching down at an airport near you in the not-too-distant future. Airbus, Rolls-Royce, and Siemens have formed a partnership which they hope will lead to development of hybrid-electric propulsion for commercial aircraft.
The three companies recently announced the collaboration at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London.
The goal is to create a “hybrid-electric technology demonstrator.” Dubbed the E-Fan X, it is anticipated to fly in 2020 following a comprehensive ground test campaign, provisionally on a BAe 146 flying testbed, with one of the aircraft’s four gas turbine engines replaced by a two MW electric motor.
“The E-Fan X is an important next step in our goal of making electric flight a reality in the foreseeable future,” said Paul Eremenko, Airbus’ Chief Technology Officer.
Airbus, Rolls-Royce, and Siemens will each contribute to the program in a specific area. Airbus will be responsible for overall integration and the control architecture of the hybrid-electric propulsion system and batteries. Rolls-Royce’s responsibilities will be the turbo-shaft engine, two megawatt generator, and power electronics. Siemens will take charge of the two MW electric motors and their power electronic control unit, as well as the inverter, DC/DC converter, and power distribution system.
This comes on top of the E-Aircraft Systems House collaboration between Airbus and Siemens, launched in 2016, which aims at development and maturation of various electric propulsion system components and their terrestrial demonstration across various power classes.
The companies say moving towards a means of transport with improved environmental performance that less reliant on fossil fuels is one of the top challenges for aviation. They are committed to meeting the EU technical environmental goals of the European Commission’s Flightpath 2050 Vision for Aviation (reduction of CO2 by 75%, reduction of NOx by 90% and noise reduction by 65%) and believe these cannot be achieved with the technologies existing today.
“Therefore, Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Siemens are investing in and focusing research work in different technology areas including electrification. Electric and hybrid-electric propulsion are seen today as among the most promising technologies for addressing these challenges,” they stated in a joint press release.