European Helicopter Developer AgustaWestland Creates the World's First Fully Electric Tilt-Rotor Aircraft

In the face of a heightened focus on aircraft emissions reduction in the industry, electric-powered and hybrid aircraft, as well as aircraft that use biofuels, offer viable alternatives.  This blog has explored the development of the electric aircraft before in “Electric Aircraft May Soon be the Standard in the Business Aviation Industry.”  Recently, the development of electric aircraft took another step with the announcement that European helicopter maker AgustaWestland has built and flown the world’s first electric tilt-rotor aircraft.  

Named “Project Zero,” the aircraft employs two electric-powered rotors, one on each wing.  The rotors, which are located within the wingspan, can be rotated more than 90 degrees so that they can be used for lift-off and as propellers during normal flight.  This model is completely electric; however, AgustaWestland is considering a hybrid model that uses a diesel engine.  For more information, please visit AgustaWestland’s website.

Photo: AgustaWestland

Electric Aircrafts May Soon be the Standard in the Business Aviation Industry

Volta Volare, a Portland, Oregon based aeronautics company will begin testing a four-person electric aircraft prototype called the GT4 later this year. 

As reported by the company, here are a few interesting aspects of the GT4: 

  • The GT4 runs off a hybrid powertrain similar to that of the Chevrolet Volt and is equipped with both a 900-pound lithium-polymer battery system and a secondary supercharged 1.5 liter gasoline engine that will recharge the battery when the battery approaches 25% full.
  • The GT4 is able to takeoff and travel up to 300 miles on battery power alone. The aircraft carries enough aviation gasoline to extend the flight another 1,000 miles, if required.
  • The GT4 utilizes a canard, or short cross-wing near the nose of the aircraft, and a rear four-blade carbon-composite propeller to “push” the aircraft through the air.

Electric-powered flight is made possible by the tremendous technological advances in the electric vehicle industry. Batteries have become lighter while at the same time able to generate the additional horsepower needed for takeoff and flight.  Further, hybrid technologies have cured one of the greatest criticisms of electric powered flight – that the failure of power during flight is too risky.

The benefits of electric aircraft travel are obvious. The cost of completing a roundtrip journey on battery power would be a fraction of the cost to complete the same journey on aviation gasoline, especially if jet fuel prices remain at record highs. Aircraft emissions and noise pollution will also be reduced significantly. Some industry experts also envision a time when daily commutes will be made by electric flights, thus cutting gasoline-powered vehicle emissions.

The next logical step once these personal electric-powered aircrafts are regularly flying and the technology has further matured is for the aircrafts to become larger. They could soon reach a capacity of 10 to 20 seats for use in the business and corporate sector, and then move to commercial size. Before this happens, however, there are some regulatory hurdles. Currently, Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) regulations for light sport aircraft preclude electric-powered aircraft. However, it was announced last month at the CAFE Electric Aircraft Symposium that the FAA had completed its regulatory study and is moving towards rulemaking. The rulemaking process may take several years to compete and implement, thus, although no longer science fiction, you may have to wait a little longer to take your first electric-powered flight.

For more information on the electric aircraft industry, visit the CAFE Foundation’s blog.