Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Siemens team up to get a hybrid-electric plane flying by 2020

Rebecca Smith
The three firms are looking to bring in
The three firms are looking to bring in "the third generation of aviation" (Source: Airbus)

Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Siemens have announced a partnership to develop a hybrid electric engine as the aviation industry ramps up efforts to reduce a reliance on fossil fuels.

The three firms have worked on what they are billing as an E-Fan X hybrid-electric technology demonstrator, which they're planning to fly in 2020, after a thorough ground test campaign on a British Aerospace 146 aircraft.

One of the aircraft's four gas turbine engines will be replaced by a two megawatt electric motor, with plans to replace a second one after the system has been sufficiently tested.

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“The E-Fan X is an important next step in our goal of making electric flight a reality in the foreseeable future," said Paul Eremenko, Airbus' chief technology officer.

He said the work the firms have done "will pave the way to a hybrid single-aisle commercial aircraft that is safe, efficient, and cost-effective".

(Source: Airbus)

The E-Fan X demonstrator will explore the challenges of high-propulsion systems, such as thermal effects, electric thrust management, and altitude. The companies said they will mature the technology, performance, safety and reliability to fuel quick progress on the hybrid electric technology.

The programme will also look to establish the requirements for future certification of electrically powered aircraft, while training a generation of designers and engineers to bring hybrid-electric commercial aircraft a step closer to reality.

Eremenko added:

We see hybrid-electric propulsion as a compelling technology for the future of aviation.

Here's how the three firms will contribute:
  • Airbus will be responsible for overall integration as well as the control architecture of the hybrid-electric propulsion system and batteries, and its integration with flight controls
  • Rolls-Royce will be responsible for the turbo-shaft engine, two megawatt generator, and power electronics
  • Siemens will deliver the two megawatt electric motors and their power electronic control unit, as well as the inverter, DC/DC converter, and power distribution system

Paul Stein, Rolls-Royce's chief technology officer said the programme will help "revolutionise flight and welcome in the third generation of aviation".

Separately, Airbus also announced it had picked up a Rolls-Royce executive to replace its renowned head commercial salesman John Leahy. Eric Schulz, president of civil aerospace at Rolls-Royce, will now become chief of sales, marketing and contracts for the firm's commercial aircraft business.

He joins Airbus at the end of January, while Leahy retires after 33 years of service, with over 16,000 aircraft sold under his leadership.

In September, EasyJet announced a tie-up with US startup Wright Electric to develop passenger aircraft powered by electric batteries. After demonstrating that its technology worked in a two-seater plane, Wright Electric has been working with the low-cost giant to scale it up to commercial proportions.

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