It is no wonder that Solar Impulse airplane is so popular- it is the first aircraft that is be able to go around the globe only powered by solar. But another aspect of that still ongoing historical journey is the “guts” of the pilots to take on the adventure and the trust they have in their invention. Safety is one of the main concerns when it comes to airplane flights, and the smaller the aircraft, the greater the risk.
Recently, it has become increasingly popular to learn how to be a pilot, with many schools offering to teach you in no time and let you experience the ultimate freedom that comes with operating, and flying on, a single-engine aircraft. Now, as much joy as these little aircrafts can provide, the one engine is what runs the whole thing, and if something happens to it, no matter how small, emergency landing has to be performed immediately.
To prevent that, or at least to ease the situation, a team of scientists, and probably very frequent flyers, from Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) and AXTER Aerospace, designed an all-electric back-up engine, which can be fitted on any light aircraft and increase the range and give extra power in case of engine failure. The main purpose of this auxiliary electric propulsion unit, however, is to improve safety and minimize accidents.
The e-engine is coupled to the conventional one, and powered by a Li-ion battery that can take the plane forward for another 20 km (12 miles). It is turned on automatically in case of engine failure. The system can also add extra power to the engine if needed whenever the pilot decides.
The best feature of all is that the battery is charged by the engine during the flight, which makes the propulsion unit act like a hybrid system. The pilot can decide to use it all up on take off, giving a boost of additional 30kW, and not worry that there is no emergency charge left.
Considering that in the US and Europe, on annual basis, there are around 600 accidents with light aircraft, which result in loses of both money and lives, having the system on board could really make the difference between crashing and landing safely. The authors state that it can be installed on any aircraft, and they believe that it would reduce maintenance cost, and boost fuel efficiency.
Image (c) Universidad Carlos III de Madrid