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Breakthrough in hybrid tech: Electric airplane flies at 1500ft in test flight

Breakthrough in hybrid tech: Electric airplane flies at 1500ft in test flight

LONDON: After popularity of hybrid cars, automakers are going to adopt this technology on airplanes.

Scientists have teamed up with Boeing to create a hybrid-electric airplane, which has gone on a test flight.

Researchers from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom have created the first ever hybrid-electric aircraft, which apparently uses 30 percent less fuel when compared to an aircraft that runs on gasoline. Moreover, in another first, the airplane is also capable of recharging itself when in flight.

The researchers conducted a battery of test flights for the hybrid aircraft, which is fueled by a “parallel hybrid-electric propulsion system.” This system is basically an amalgamation of a petrol engine and electric motor.

The tests were carried out in the Sywell Aerodrome near Northampton. The first couple of tests were composed of a chain of “hops” on the runway. After the tests, the hybrid-electric aircraft took longer flights at an altitude of 1,500 feet. The purpose of the tests is to optimize the aircraft’s fuel economy and performance.

While hybrid cars have been around for a long time now, the creation of fully electric aircraft has – until now – been hindered owing to the battery technology.

“Until recently, they have been too heavy and didn’t have enough energy capacity. But with the advent of improved lithium-polymer batteries, similar to what you’d find in a laptop computer, hybrid aircraft – albeit at a small scale – are now starting to become viable,” noted Dr. Paul Robertson, project lead at Cambridge’s department of engineering.

With this groundbreaking development, future aircraft will assist in low carbon emission.

The hybrid-electric airplane deploys an electric generator/motor and a 4-stroke piston engine, which are attached to the same drive pulley, which spins the propeller. The take-off and ascent of an aircraft are usually the times when maximum power is needed.

The motor and engine of the hybrid-electric aircraft work in tandem to power the aircraft. However, once the altitude when the flight can cruise comfortably is reached, there is an option to switch the electric motor into the generator mode. Basically, this mode will recharge the batteries or the motor assist mode will aid in minimizing the consumption of fuel.

If you’re thinking of boarding the environment-friendly aircraft, there is however a long wait ahead. Researchers say that plenty of work is still needed before the commercial use of the hybrid-electric aircraft becomes a reality. Moreover, the aircraft requires additional battery power.

“We’re looking [to be] decades away before an electric airliner would be a viable possibility,” said Robertson.