You might expect the Paris Air Show to be a noisy event, but this year, at least part of the sky was silent for an hour. In a sign of changing trends in aviation, Airbus—a company known for large passenger jets—debuted a quiet, low emissions electric plane.
Whether out of concern for the environment or simply in response to rising fuel costs, Airbus is investing in developing planes that use less fossil fuel. Airbus Group Innovations partnered with Rolls-Royce to study a new concept called E-thrust. In this new design, several electrically powered fans are distributed in clusters along the wing span, with one advanced gas power unit providing the electrical power for six fans and for recharging the energy storage. The researchers are focusing on using superconductors for the cables, motors, and generators.
At the Paris Air Show last week, Airbus showed off a prototype for a two-seater aircraft called an “E-Fan” plane. It is virtually silent, with zero carbon dioxide emissions. The all-electric plane has a dual 30kw engines, a 31-foot wingspan and weighs just 1,100 pounds, thanks to lightweight carbon fiber composite materials. The plane is powered by 120 lithium-ion batteries that are stored in the wings.
The E-Fan plane can only stay in the air for about an hour. A different electric plane, the Solar Impulse 2, can fly for much longer, and is on a solar-powered journey around the world. However, the Solar Impulse 2 only flies at 50 miles per hour (mph), which is too slow for mass transportation. The Airbus electric plane, on the other hand, reaches speeds as fast as 136mph. The two-seater is being marketed as a plane for flight schools and will be ready to enter service by the end of 2017 or early 2018. A larger four-seater version is planned for 2019. Ultimately, Airbus aims to have a 100-seat electric passenger plane by 2050.