Terry Spruce speaks to Tecnam’s Chief of Project R&D and Product Development, Fabio Russo, about their work with NASA…
In tandem with Tecnam working with NASA, Siemens is developing batteries. Until recently, Airbus was evaluating the E-Fan aircraft - a programme launched in 2014 but cancelled in early 2017 to enable Airbus to concentrate on collaborating and developing hybrid-electric systems.
Italy-based Tecnam has been working closely with NASA in developing an aircraft that uses batteries to fly, and in doing so, the company is completing a second P2006T aircraft. NASA is evaluating LEAPtech (Leading Edge Asynchronous Technology) with the aim of developing a safer, more energy efficient, lower-operating-cost, greener General Aviation aircraft.
The Siemens battery is flying for 30 minutes at present, but Siemens is seeking to extend the life of the battery to allow it to fly longer. The “eFusion” has been developed and can reach a top speed of 140mph (225km/h). The aircraft flew recently at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in UK.
Tecnam’s Fabio Russo is clearly excited to be working with NASA on the project “Electric flight is today still a dream, but Tecnam feels the same hope and excitement as the aviation pioneers of the early 1900.”
In selecting an already cost effective and highly efficient twin piston aircraft NASA will seek to produce an identical platform powered by two e-motors and finally develop “a completely new configuration that will feature the same fuselage and tails with a new design wing with distributed power,” Russo details.
“Electric flight, as it is happening within the car industry, will play a great role in the aviation industry and almost everyone (from manufacturers to customers up to Civil Aviation Authorities and ASTM) understand this.”
In Russo’s opinion, however, it’s because of shortfalls in battery technology that it will be a while before customers begin preferring electric aircraft over gasoline, however.
“Batteries endurance can fulfil training needs, but not those of the longer cross-country flight operations. One option could be the ‘parallel’ hybrid,” he offers.
‘Parallel’ Hybrid Potential
The ‘parallel’ hybrid, as Russo calls it, would enable the propeller to be driven both by gasoline and e-motors, an application that he points out is actually one of the few solutions really capable of accommodating the battery development as it becomes available. A part of the power will be generated by an e-motor, while the rest of the power needed will come via the standard, internal combustion engine.
“In all cases, the future is really promising, and Tecnam is ready to play its role in this futuristic scenario,” Russo assures.
There is still a long road ahead to developing electric-powered aircraft that can fly for several hours at a time, but there now seems to be momentum, and the required technology is making great strides forward.
Along with the automotive industry, where much of the technology will be advanced faster, this form of power will become a reality sooner rather than later.
Photos courtesy of NASA