Airbus announced this week that it has successfully test flown a prototype electric aircraft called the E-Fan and the company says it’s bullish on building an electric-powered airliner for the regional market, possibly with a hybrid drive. The E-Fan is a composite, tandem two-seater with a pair of ducted fans on the tail driven by individual electric motors. Its lithium polymer batteries are housed in the wings where fuel would normally be in a light aircraft. The company released this video of the E-Fan’s first flight.
Airbus told Reuters this week that it hopes to develop an electric-powered regional airliner with 70 to 90 seats and believes the project is realistic within a 15- to 20-year timeline. The aircraft would be capable of at least taking off and landing under electric power and might use some sort of hybrid drive for sustained flight. The industry has been experimenting for decades with the type of ducted fan system such an aircraft might have. Ducted props are more efficient than turbofans engines and are also quieter.
The E-Fan has a pair of electric-driven fans with a total combined power output of 60 kilowatts or about 80 HP. Its short endurance–about 30 minutes–makes it impractical for anything but experimental test flight, but Jean Botti, Airbus’s chief technology officer, told reporters that an immediate goal is to raise the endurance to an hour or more.
Two other aircraft companies, Pipistrel in Slovenia and Flight Design in Germany, also have experimental hybrid aircraft in the works.