Hybrid-Electric Utility Aircraft Gathers Support


A British startup has attracted some heavyweights in the electric aircraft business to create a hybrid-electric utility aircraft that can fill a variety of roles. Faradair Aerospace founder Neil Cloughley says Honeywell, magniX, Cambridge Consultants and Nova Systems have signed on to help develop his Bio Electric Hybrid Aircraft (BEHA). “Their input will enable us to deliver the BEHA prototype by 2024 and subsequent Part 23 certification for operational trials from 2026,” said Cloughley. “Gaining such support validates our business model and capability of the BEHA.”

Cloughley said the first iteration of the aircraft is built around Honeywell’s turbine hybrid electric system, which will run on biofuel. Eventually the plan is for a pure electric aircraft as that technology progresses. Faradair is going to keep the first 300 production aircraft for itself as what it calls the “largest proof-of-concept air mobility program ever created.” It will configure half the aircraft for aerial firefighting and 75 as quick-change models that can alternate between 18-passenger regional airliners and cargo aircraft. There will be 50 pure cargo models and 25 to be used as demos for government roles from light transport to fisheries patrols.

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    • I wondered about that, too. Maybe the intention is to lease some of those 300 out to the fire fighting and cargo operators that they alluded to. If so, why not sell to aircraft leasing companies instead, and let them handle the leases while the manufacturer concentrates on its core abilities? But 300 seems like a very large block of aircraft that will generate little, if any, revenue for the manufacturer. That’s especially true if they build only 30 a year. The 20-year run of the Beech 1900 saw about 700 units built, and the EMB-120 production line delivered about half as many in about the same time frame. Small regional airliners don’t seem to have much of a market. The ATRs and Dash 8s are considerably larger and are built in greater numbers.

  1. Nice look! It has been a long time since I’ve seen a 3 wing plane. A single wing is more efficient for speed. I don’t see why a single pusher prop has been chosen over a twin tractor. I see the passengers don’t have luggage – that will help with keeping the weight lower. It is much easier to design an airplane around the power plant than to perfect the power plant around the craft.

    • People have to stop thinking about electric and hybrid electric propulsion as an evolution of piston, turbine, or jet propulsion. Our current crop of aircraft are designed around the operating characteristics of piston or turbine powerplants, including their fuel, combustion air, cooling, operating speed, maintenance, fire protection, and other requirements. All of these are at least somewhat different for electric or hybrid electric powerplants and they are going to necessitate differently designed aircraft to effectively take advantage of them.

      This is much the same as when jet propulsion came along. Though there were several attempts to adapt aircraft designed for piston engines into jets, these were mostly unsuccessful, or died on the drawing board as their designers realized that a new propulsion paradigm required a new aircraft design paradigm.

      Engineers are always going to strive to get the best performance and efficiency out of an aircraft and propulsion. When a new system of propulsion comes along, don’t expect the aircraft to look the same.

    • The wing is a box wing: it’s a biplane, but the lower wing starts near the nose and is swept aft; the upper wing is swept forward but has its center section far aft on the fuselage; and there is a vertical surface joining the upper and lower wings at the tips. The vertical surface means the lift distribution does not have to go to near zero near the wingtips, so there is more lift per unit surface area, which improves L/D; and the sort-of-biplane structure allows lower structural weight. But there are tradeoffs at high speed, in stability, and in deploying high-lift devices.

      Some studies suggest that for shorter flights (large percent of the time at low speeds) and for aircraft that carry the fuel in the fuselage (and can tolerate having a very small wing volume) there is a several percentage point reduction in fuel burn.

      That doesn’t seem like much, to justify combining the development risk of a new propulsion system and a new airframe.

      Separately, the single propulsor at the back of the fuselage will ingest and accelerate the boundary layer, which reduces fuselage drag substantially but has a tendency to really mess up the efficiency of the propulsor and to make a lot of noise as the fan blades hit the unsteady (i.e., turbulent) flow from the fuselage. So that’s three development risks in one project.

      I give them credit for trying!

    • I agree. A solution in search of a problem. The only current problem is politically generated. Fuel remains relatively cheap and plentiful. The day may come in the future (50 years? 100 years?) we run low on fossil fuels, and that day this design may be useful.

  2. Has anyone answered the “small plane” question?

    Non aviation fans tend to hate small planes like they have opposing political beliefs. If you tell me we are taking Cape Air for part of our trip, I’m happy for the experience. Many people (most?) choose renting a car from Boston to their destination instead.

    Does that change if the plane is “green”. Which of their complaints are the most important: size, noise, bumpy flight, cost, pilot barely old enough to drive? Which ones are addressed by the green solution?

    Seems to me the only people building towards a sellable product are either building something completely new like intra city, pilotless flyers. Or, they are building electric sport planes like motor gliders and trainers. Am I wrong?