Trio team up for hybrid electric aircraft

November 30, 2017 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Airbus Industries, Rolls-Royce and Siemens have joined forces to develop a hybrid electric propulsion technology for commercial airplanes. The driver for such developments is, like in the automotive space, the CO2 emission reduction.

The move will bring together the world’s foremost experts in electric propulsion technologies, the companies said during the announcement.

Their plan is developing a hybrid-electric technology demonstrator, the E-Fan X. It is scheduled to fly in 2020 after a comprehensive ground test campaign. As the testbed for the E-Fan X, the companies plan to use a BAe 146 short-haul airliner. In the four-engine aircraft, one of the gas turbines will be replaced by a 2-megawatt electric motor for test purposes. It is planned to replace a second gas turbine with the electric system once the system maturity has proven.

With the E-Fan X, the developers plan to explore the challenges of high-power propulsion systems such as thermal effects, electric thrust management, altitude and dynamic effects on electric systems as well as electromagnetic compatibility issues that might arise in such a configuration. The objective is to push and mature the technology, performance, safety and reliability enabling quick progress on the hybrid electric technology. The program also aims at establishing the requirements for future certification of electrically powered aircraft while training a new generation of designers and engineers to bring hybrid-electric commercial aircraft one step closer to reality.

This drawing shows how the partners have
divided up their tasks. Source: Siemens

As part of the E-Fan X program, Airbus, Rolls-Royce, and Siemens will each contribute with their extensive experience and know-how in their respective fields of expertise. 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. Along with Airbus, Rolls-Royce will also work on the fan adaptation to the existing nacelle and the electric motor.