Many would argue that hybrid-electric vehicles nowadays are the wisest choice. Clean and smooth, yet minus the fear that the battery will run out half way between charging stations. If this is the case with cars, it is only logical that same goes for planes, right?
Well, this is what the guys from Boeing thought when they decided to team up with a group of talented engineers from University of Cambridge, UK. Their ultimate goal is to develop a hybrid airplane, which will serve the commercial needs of passengers, but using 30 percent less fuel than an average fuel-powered plane of the same size. You can see a promo video here.
Boeing claims that this will be the first hybrid-electric airplane around. There have been quite a number of similar concepts circulating the net over the past years, but somehow after the campaigns have been launched, no one hears much more about them.
According to the makers, what holds back most companies that attempt to build such aircraft is the battery technology. The guys from Boeing and Cambridge, however, think that advances in the field of energy storage, and especially in lithium-polymer batteries, have finally reached a stage when they can offer exactly what is needed.
Besides the improved energy storage technology, the new one-man aircraft, has a propeller driven by a Honda 4-stroke piston engine, which complements a custom made electric motor/generator. Both can do the job separately or together, depending on how much power is needed. A unique feature of the plane is the so-called “generator mode”, which allows recharging of the batteries while the plane is flying.
The hybrid airplane passed successfully the initial tests, which comprised of short and long flights, but of course the makers will not stop here. They believe that they can optimize the fuel economy even further, and this is precisely what they are currently busy working on.
Image (c) University of Cambridge
Replace the IC engine with a fuel cell generator and you have an electric serial hybrid that doesn’t damage the upper atmosphere. This is a place where a hydrogen fuel cell might make sense.