At the 2011 Paris Air Show the aerospace giant EADS showcased an all-electric propulsion system for a commercial airliner that could be ready to fly in just 20 years. The plane, called the VoltAir, is a zero-emissions, high-density, battery-powered aircraft that rethinks the design of conventional commercial aircraft in order to allow for the swapping out of a emissions heavy jet engine for an earth-friendly battery system. The plane is powered by highly efficient superconducting electric motors which drive counter-rotating, shrouded propellers located at the rear of the plane. The significance of this plane isn’t centered on the engineers decision to plop a battery inside, but from the team at EADS understanding that in order to make electric aircraft a reality, we’ll have to rethink not only the engines, but the propulsion systems and the airframe design as well.
EADS designed the VoltAir with two large, high-density batteries located in the cargo hold that can be easily swapped out at an airport. The used batteries would be removed and returned to a charging station — much like the removal of cargo and baggage from a plane — and a set of fully charged batteries would replace them avoiding the need for the aircraft to sit still for the many hours it would need to fully recharge the batteries inside. The rear propulsion system, combined with the electric motors would also make for a much quieter flying experience. Though the world of battery research isn’t quite up to date with what EADS thinks they need to power their aircraft, they are hopeful that with the success that industry has had in the past 10 years, the batteries they need — 1000 Wh/kg — will be available in 20 years.
“VoltAir is an upstream research concept, not a near-term commercial approach,” said Jean Botti, Chief Technical Officer of EADS. “Our research is very forward-looking and could be beneficial in different applications. As a systems architect for aircraft, we are pushing the envelope in this research to stimulate new ideas. The objective here is to push the envelope to move towards more electric, emission free propulsion.”
EADS has recently had their hand in helping to design quite a few research concepts and actual electric aircrafts — including the record holding, all-electric Cri-Cri and the recently unveiled Siemens Hybrid Electric Aircraft — and it seems they’re continuing to push for innovation in airspace design.