The future of aviation could very well be here with electric aircraft. Electric planes like the commercial Pipistrel Alpha Electro aircraft, nicknamed “Bobby,” have recently reached new milestones, flying 1,400 kilometers on a single charge. And it’s not the only rechargeable plane that has done so. Electric commuter airplanes from Seattle in the United States have pushed 800 kilometers and are scheduled for the first test flight.
With these exciting developments taking place, people may wonder about the feasibility of electric flight in the next decade or so. There may even be questions about whether we need these aircraft types with traditional airplanes still so widely used — but it won’t be long until the skies welcome a new type of airplane.
The Need for Electric Planes in Recent Years
Similar to other industries, aviation is also moving towards green energy. Many of today’s commercial airliners use mechanical and electrical hybridized components to operate. One of these components is the auxiliary power unit (APU), which supplies energy aside from thrust force to start the aircraft’s main engines. And in addition to the flight control surface adjustments like landing gears and rudders, the APU also acts as a backup power generator should both engines fail during an emergency.
However, common airplane models like the Boeing 747-400 jumbo jet carry an incredible 240,000 liters of jet fuel and burns it at a rate of 4 liters per second, generating vast amounts of carbon emissions. And with flights increasing steadily every year, the aviation industry is contributing to the world’s CO2 footprint at a much faster rate.
Emerging Cases of Electric Planes Taking Flight
Despite the limitations of today’s battery technology, there have been emerging cases of electric planes taking flight. For one, Joby Aviation made its debut at the New York Stock Exchange to showcase its air taxi, following the unveiling of its five-seater take-off and landing aircraft this past February. To develop these features on electric planes, specific features are required for its circuitry.
Components such as baseless power modules use semiconductors to boost conversion efficiency and power generation. Planes have two primary electrical printed circuit boards (PCB) and an alternate circuit. These require PCB schematics that route connections between each component seamlessly and efficiently. The alternating currents from these circuits are then fed into a transformer rectifier unit (TRU), which converts them to DC. The AC and DC currents are routed throughout the plane to receiver busses, powering all connected specialized components.
There are various contenders to look out for in electric aviation development. While NASA has grappled with the physics required to get larger battery-powered commercial flights off the ground, developments in lithium-ion battery technology have led to smaller, propeller-driven airplanes stepping into the spotlight. Alongside NASA’s two-seater, an electric plane called the X-57, there was also a nine-seater Cessna unit from AeroTEC and magniX that completed a 30-minutes flight in Washington state.
Closer to Australia, the company Sounds Air is targeting electric planes to transport passengers across the Cook Strait by 2026. The Bleinheim to Wellington route is considered a feasible first candidate for the new electrical 19-seater planes.
The Future of Electric-Powered Aviation
Whether flights are traveling from Cologne to Belgrade or even across the Pacific and the Atlantic, we are still some way away from achieving fully electric-powered flight. But with enough steps taken, it will soon be the standard for air travel.
The next few decades will undoubtedly be exciting times for aviation. As the industry moves towards more eco-conscious processes, air travel can become more sustainable as a direct result.
This article is a paid-for advertisement. While I have reviewed and do not disagree with the content – I did not write/research this content. Ken Pascoe.