The Electric (r)evolution
Electric aircraft could be a very interesting mode of transportation. Of course, aircraft – especially commercial passenger aircraft seating hundreds of passengers – require an staggering amount of energy to get airborne and, preferably, stay there for a planned amount of time. And even landing in a controlled way costs energy, although here quite some energy can be recovered as well. Unfortunately, battery technology isn’t quite there yet, such that we can routinely operate large commercial aircraft electrically. What some are thinking of, however, are hybrid-electric aircraft – which may be interesting for commercial planes as well. But all of that is still in the – hopefully near – future.
For smaller aircraft things look quite a bit better. With the latest advances in battery technology and some clever engineering it appears that even fully electric, high-performance small aircraft are possible. In fact, a small British company is working on exactly that. Modern electric motors can be made extremely powerful – with lots and lots of torque, exactly what one wants in an aircraft engine – and, by their very nature, are very efficient. Nothing new there. But combine that with the newest battery technology and control electronics and something really interesting and promising emerges.
This (internet) episode of Fully Charged with Robert Llewellyn is quite worth watching. It shows an experimental little aircraft, quite capable of aerobatics. With some normal flight modes, it would be able to stay aloft for quite a while. Elsewhere, in other episodes of the same show, it shows a small, but larger, (electric) twin-turbine aircraft making a historic flight over the channel.
It is clear that electric and hybrid-electric aircraft are under rapid development. Of course, the limiting factor – the batteries – remain. What I personally do miss in all these new experimental aircraft is solar. Maybe it is hard to do, but I would imagine that covering all non-control surfaces with a flexible solar-power generating film would be beneficial, assuming not too much aerodynamic drag. Well-glued down adhesive-film, preferably, that is. Every few hundred watts that this might generate would help, I would imagine.
Anyway, it’s interesting to watch. I can recommend Robert’s channel as well. He’s funny and, more importantly, quite well-informed, and tries to remain fairly neutral whilst testing all these different electric and hybrid-electric cars, motorcycles, assorted vehicles and aircraft far more thoroughly that most motoring journalists would do.