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Are we on the verge of an electric aviation revolution?

The emergence of new, greener and eco-friendly aircraft has been speculated for some years now. Several manufacturers are looking into this quieter, and cheaper air transport but there still remain limitations for these planes and helicopters to go into mainstream adoption.

The 2021 Electric Aircraft Industry Report looked at a range of aircraft that utilise “electricity supplied through different sources such as batteries, solar cells, ground power cables, fuel cell ultracapacitors, and power beaming” hydrogen cells.

Here are some of the latest electric and hybrid-electric aircraft that are on the cusp of being released and developed.

Image Credit: NASA Langley/Advanced Concepts Lab, AMA, Inc. - X-57 Maxwell Propeller Jet

X-57 Maxwell Propeller Jet - Leading Edge Asynchronous Propeller Technology (LEAPTech)

The N-57 Maxwell is developed by NASA and has recently started another round of testing at the Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. This is significant as it moves the development cycle from the prototype phase and towards a first crucial flight.

NASA expects the X-57 will have a range of roughly 160 kilometres and a cruise speed of 172 mph with a maximum flight time of approximately 40 minutes. However, the space agency isn’t aiming for commercial production.

NASA hopes that if successful, the X-57 will inspire manufacturers to develop commercial electric aircraft. This would also enable the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) the time to develop the necessary regulations.

NASA is also developing new aircraft propulsion technologies to “turn the electric-powered flight into an everyday reality.”

The Robb Report said that “NASA created the zero-emissions aircraft to demonstrate how commuter planes could switch from traditional combustion engines to electric motors for cleaner, quieter and more sustainable air travel. To that end, the X-57 Maxwell is actually a modified Tecnam P2006T aircraft that will be fitted with 14 electric motors instead of the original two piston engines.”

Some of the design features which are hoped to make the prototype aircraft a success and reduce the carbon footprint include:

  • A high-aspect-ratio wing (to boost efficiency by reducing drag.

  • Two motors with five-foot-wide propellers on the wingtips that will be used for cruising,

  • 12 high-lift motors and propellers along the leading edges of the wings to help the aircraft with take-off and landing.

Photo Credit: Eviation Alice - An electric luxury commuter jet

Eviation Alice

Israeli company Eviation hopes its Alice aircraft (the first purely electric commuter jet) will begin its first deliveries imminently. The manufacturer says flights will be available in the US and EU markets initially.

Eviation says “We believe the new era of air mobility will be defined by those dedicated to bringing engineering innovation and the pioneering spirit of aviation to life, every day.”

The electric aircraft can carry nine passengers and reach speeds of 440 Km/h and the plane has a range of over 800 kilometres.

The manufacturer won the top prize at the 14th Crystal Cabin Awards in 2021.

EasyJet all-electric aircraft

EasyJet is developing a nine-passenger prototype and the airline hopes to have all-electric aircraft flying short-haul flights within 10 years.

The budget airline’s partnership with US-based Wright Electric hopes to have a commercially viable aircraft carrying 186 passengers by 2030. The prototype Wright 1.has a1.5 MW electric motor and inverter at 3 kilovolts and it is hoped that ground tests can be conducted as early as 2021with flight tests by 2023.

Johan Lundgren, chief executive of EasyJet, said: “This is another crucial step for our partner Wright Electric to move towards the introduction of commercial electric aircraft and it is exciting to see their ambitious timeline for testing and entry into service.”

Other Electric Aircraft (that didn’t make it)

  • In partnership with Airbus, Siemens was developing the E-Fan X aircraft - a scheduled test flight was planned for 2020 but Airbus and Rolls-Royce made the joint decision to bring the E-Fan X demonstrator to an end in April 2020. Siemens and Airbus are also involved in a smaller subproject with aero-engine maker Rolls-Royce.

  • Zunum Aero, backed by Boeing and JetBlue, was planning a hybrid drive system for its 12-passenger, 340 mph small jet. Preliminary flights were planned by 2020 with charter companies set to take deliveries starting in 2022 but issues arose and the aircraft manufacturers are now trying to settle legal disputes.

An E-Racer aircraft - the first E-Racing World Cup is due to take place in 2022

E-Racer Aircraft

The race to develop electric propulsion systems to power emissions-free planes has spurred an eclectic plane racing market.

Rolls-Royce, in partnership with YASA and Electroflight. Was developing the ACCEL (Accelerating the Electrification of Flight) projection 2019.

Air Race E plans to hold an annual World Cup for electric aeroplanes to “develop ground-breaking technology in electric aerospace”, say the organisers. The first race series is planned to go ahead in 2022.

The aircraft is driven by a propeller and powered only by an electric motor which can see the planes reach speeds of around 450kph around a tight circuit just 10 meters above the ground.

Phoro Credit: Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/picture alliance/Getty - Airbus CityAirbus eVTOL

eVTOL Flying Taxis

There is a lot of momentum in the future of mobility in the flying taxi market, with the competition for flying electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft very strong.

This generation of new aircraft could transform the future of urban transportation with a range of aerospace manufacturers competing in this space, including Boeing and GM.

We will look into these eVTOL options in the near future (such as the exciting Volocopter and JOBY, and concept flying taxis from leading developers such as Airbus' CityAirbus eVTOL ), how the technology works and what the eVTOL is, and the biggest investments being made into eVTOL development,

We will also provide insights into leading companies leading the electric vertical takeoff and landing industry and how they could change the aviation industry and air mobility in Asia and globally.


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