Considerations for Electric Aircraft Fan Design

Due to concerns about air travel’s impact on climate change, research and development into electric aircraft has been ongoing for several years. Within the last decade several startups as well as larger corporations have been developing electric or hybrid electric aircraft (Ros, 2017). The ultimate goal is to Conduct long (>500 miles), full-electric commercial flights with large aircrafts capable of carrying 100’s of passengers, but this will require at least 5-10 more years of development. Luckily, smaller electric aircraft designed for short-range flights (<500 miles) with anywhere from 1-20 passengers have already been tested successfully utilizing electric batteries, a hybrid-electric system and even a hydrogen fuel cell.  With these advances, emission-free air travel is closer than you think.

Electric Aircraft

Examples of full-electric aircraft designs include the Airbus E-Fan 1.0 and E-Fan 1.1 (Airbus Group), shown in Figure 1. These two-person aircraft utilize two ducted, variable-pitch fans, shown in Figure 2. Each fan is powered by a 30-kW electric motor. The motors are powered by several lithium-ion battery packs stored in the wings. While the aircraft only provides an hour of flight time, the batteries can recharge in approximately one hour and can be easily be swapped in and out.

Figure 1: Airbus E-Fan (Airbus Group)
Figure 1: Airbus E-Fan (Airbus Group)
Figure 2: E-Fan ducted fan (Varmin, 2014)
Figure 2: E-Fan ducted fan (Varmin, 2014)

There are several reasons besides climate change why electric aircraft should be developed from a business perspective (Figure 3). Short and mid-range regional flights make up a significant portion of all flights around the world.  The current flight range of electric aircraft is limited to these short and mid-range fights. Additionally, shorter flights spend relatively more time taking off and landing than cruising at high altitudes, which makes shorter trips less energy efficient. While short, regional flights are economically unattractive for large commercial aircraft, a smaller aircraft with less fuel consumption may provide a valuable alternative. Read More