Airbus E-Fan electric aircraft makes first flight

The aviation industry has taken a tentative step toward electric power with the successful maiden flight of the Airbus E-Fan. The manufacturer known for the massive A380 jetliner began testing this small experimental aircraft last week, with the ultimate aim of lowering the huge carbon dioxide emissions from commercial flights.

The E-FAN is powered by 120 lithium-polymer batteries and can fly at speeds up to 136mph. Measuring just 19 feet from nose to tail, the compact aircraft shows that Airbus probably isn’t ready for commercial zero emissions flight just yet, but it does highlight the potential benefits.

In addition to emissions and noise reductions, electric power could be significantly cheaper. Airbus claims an hour-long commercial flight on the E-Fan could cost just $16, compared to $55 on a similarly-sized conventional aircraft.

However, there are also drawbacks, some of which should be familiar to electric-car drivers. The E-Fan is relatively slow, for one, and its flight time is much shorter than conventional jets.

For now, Airbus plans to continue work on the E-Fan. Two versions will be produced: The E-Fan 2.0 fully-electric training aircraft and the E-FAN 4.0 hybrid, which could see commercial use at some point.

Electric aircraft are likely to experience the same issues of added weight, short range, and long charging times as electric cars, and the demands of commercial aviation may make these harder to solve. Yet every technology has to start somewhere, and the E-Fan represents that first, tentative step.

Comments

  1. stephen says

    its still a prototype version 2.0 E-Fan while development of the production version is expected to begin in June in a production facility near Bordeaux Airport … The aircraft is expected to enter into service by 2017. Airbus plans to introduce a new four-seat E-Fan 4.0 version aircraft in the next two years.

  2. Clare Astley says

    The day may soon come when we will have learned what the force of gravity is. We can then be able to reverse that force or neutralize it. The problem then would be to find a way to stay put and not go flying off into space. With gravity nullified, that is exactly what would happen,
    We would be able to soar continuously by simply turning gravity on and off.In anti-gravity, we would soar upwards and in gravity we soar downwards. We could travel without ant propulsion,
    but the trip would have it’s ups and downs so to speak.

  3. dan says

    Wellll… it IS a composite airframe.
    Fires, whether from a fuel engine, Or a battery are likely going to be a ‘problem’.
    Odd was/is the effort to pickup a wee bit of regenerative from the main landing wheel.
    Seems a bit over the top, given the effort and complexity it adds.
    Other than that it’s a great achievement.. albeit not the first electro civilian sport plane.

  4. De says

    Ed H,
    Why do you think the batteries are in the wings? The batteries should be in the belly. Perhaps they should include jettison in the design.

    • Clare Astley says

      In order for the wings to be able to support the weight, without being a lot stronger,the
      batteries should be in the wings. This would result in a lighter overall weight.

  5. Ed H says

    If they make a version that qualifies as a Light Sport Aircraft in the US, I’d definitely be interested! (Price pending, of course…)

    Bonus points if it can use standard high-volt/high-amp electric car charging plugs.

    My only worry at this point is fire. In conventional small aircraft, it’s the engine that is the cause of fire the vast majority of the time. And those fires are usually not “guaranteed crash” fires – you can generally pilot the aircraft dead-stick to the ground.

    In this, my worry is that the most likely source for fire (based on track records,) are the Lithium-Ion battery packs. From the design, I take it the batteries are in the wings – if you have a decent-size fire in the wings, you’re going down – period.

 

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