Electric aircraft plan is no flight of fancy

Electric aircraft plan is no flight of fancy
August 15, 2011 at 06:08am

In the Middle East, where gas prices are cheap compared with the rest of the world, electric, or even hybrid, cars are still an all too rare sight on our streets. The skies, however, might be altogether different, as GE is helping pioneer a breakthrough in aviation – electric-powered aircraft.

EADS (European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company), the parent firm of Airbus, has been flying a battery electric-powered ultralight aircraft for the last year, and at the recent Paris Air Show it introduced a series-hybrid motor glider as well as an ambitious future concept for an all-electric, 50-seat passenger plane powered by superconducting drive motors.

Late last year, Boeing released details of a NASA-funded effort to use a hybrid battery-electric/gas turbine propulsion system to power a future 737-class commercial transport, while Cessna and Sikorsky have both unveiled to demonstrate a light plane and a light helicopter powered by electricity in the coming months.

But don’t look up just yet — aviation experts say that ultra-green aviation technology will take a long time to be fully adopted. Dale Carlson, Executive for Advanced Engine Systems at GE Aviation, says the main problem is overcoming the weight barrier: the batteries required to supply the amount of electricity a large commercial aircraft would be prohibitively expensive.

Carlson speculates that at some point “we’ll probably see a hybrid engine that combines fuel cells with turbines—where the turbine technology would be there for takeoff and the fuel cells utilized during cruise.”

For more details on electric planes, and the work GE is doing turning real ‘bluesky thinking’ into reality, check out the latest edition of our online technology magazine, http://www.txchnologist.com/

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