SAS: Wright Plans For “Electric 737”

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Wright Electric, a San Los Obispo-based startup, aims to make every short commercial flight electric within 20 years by building what co-founder Jeff Engler calls their “electric 737.” Wright’s vision is a 150-seat, short-haul aircraft capable of serving routes under 300 miles. Engler told attendees at the Sustainable Aviation Symposium that Wright was inspired to reject energy density arguments by looking at data on the length of commercial flights around the world. While the energy density necessary to sustain commercial aircraft for long-haul flights is far beyond the reach of current battery technology, Engler told AVweb that roughly 30% of routes served by narrow-body jets are under 300 miles. Wright estimates that flying 300-mile routes will require a doubling of the power density available in today’s batteries (400 Wh/kg needed vs. 190 Wh/kg available now), which they believe will be commercially available in the coming decades. Wright’s airliner would carry about 60,000 pounds of batteries for a 300-mile flight.

While Boeing is much better equipped to embark on the task of building an electric airliner, Engler doesn’t believe they will. The history of disruptive innovation is such that market leaders tend to have difficulty introducing technology that would cannibalize their existing portfolio, Engler says, citing Kodak’s inability to lead the way in digital cameras as the canonical example. “I would love to see Boeing throw some money at this,” Engler told AVweb, but he’s not holding his breath.

Comments (3)

"Wright's airliner would carry about 60,000 pounds of batteries for a 300-mile flight." That's borderline insane.

Wright would do well to design a "diesel-electric airplane" that would need to lug around only one-tenth of that dead weight. If Wright is determined to use more exotic technology, they could replace the engine(s) with fuel cells. If they really want to gild the "zero-emissions" lily, they could replace the Jet-A with hydrogen for their fuel cells. That way, they'd be lugging around only 1/18th of the weight of their chemical fuel (atmospheric oxygen providing the other 16/18ths). And of course, as the ultimate expression of "green," they could use 100% hydro, wind, and solar power to electrolize water to manufacture their hydrogen fuel. Sounds pretty clean to me.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | April 22, 2017 8:02 AM    Report this comment

This guy is arguing that short range invalidates the energy density argument?

Posted by: John Szpara | April 24, 2017 12:54 PM    Report this comment

While many people would like to be critical of the apparent inefficiency of 60,000 pounds of low-energy density batteries, I for one applaud this endeavor. After 200 years of technological progress it should be obvious to even the most casual observer that all technological advancements have to start somewhere and early prototypes and projects are always far from perfect. But these steps need to be taken if we are ever to see the technology hit a critical inflection point where it can become mainstream.

Of course, requiring 60,000 lbs. of batteries to fly 300 miles is not where we want to see electric powered flight be in 50 years, but by persistently pursuing this project now means that 10 years from now when battery technology improves, or if some other more efficient electric power source is invented, a platform will already exist that will be easily retrofitted and enable longer trips without having to wait for another company to develop a new airplane.

I am constantly dismayed by negative comments I read whenever a report comes out about someone daring to venture into a new technological path. This sort of attitude is the reason that our country is no longer a leader when it comes to ground breaking technology.

Posted by: Daniel Torres | April 25, 2017 9:33 AM    Report this comment

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