The Anonymous Widower

Electric-Powered Passenger Aircraft To Launch By 2022

The title of this post is the same as that of this article in The Times.

In the past few months, two serious electric small airliner projects have emerged.

And now Cranfield University are launching Project Fresson, which aims to convert Britten-Norman Islanders to electric propulsion.

  • There are hundreds of Islanders in service.
  • They were designed in the 1960s and are still in production.
  • They can carry nine passengers for nearly 900 miles.

In some ways, they are the Ford Transit of the small airliner industry. Unspectacular they may be, but they do what it says in the specification.

I’ve only flown in an Islander twice and that was between islands in the Caribbean.

There are several things to like about this project.

  • Cranfield University have an excellent reputation in aerospace design.
  • The project is well-backed by the British Government, Rolls-Royce, the University of Warwick and others.
  • The batteries appear to be coming from motorsport.
  • The Islander doesn’t have a reputation as a difficult or unsafe aircraft.
  • Over the years, the aerodynamics seem to have been improved.
  • There must be a large number of airlines around the world, who are satisfied with their current Islanders and would look seriously at an electric version.
  • The Islander is still in production.

I don’t think it carries any high level of risk.

  • The current aircraft structure will be virtually unchanged, but possibly uprated for a higher payload because of the weight of the battery.
  • The electric motors must meet a power output, energy consumption and weight.
  • The battery will probably be made from lots of standard small cells from a well-respected manufacturer like Hitachi, Samsung, Leclanche or others.
  • The battery must hold enough energy, fit in a defined space and not be too heavy.

I suspect Cranfield have already written the specifications for the motors and the battery.

Conclusion

In some ways this project has a lot in common with Harbour Air’s project to convert a Beaver.

  • Simple engineering with little risk.
  • Proven airframe.
  • No expensive airframe to certify.
  • A lot of engine and battery testing can be done safely on the ground.
  • Electric motor technology seems to be improving rapidly, with new ideas cropping up in trains, cars, boats, ships and planes.
  • A waiting market.
  • I think pilots and passengers will like the idea of an electric aircraft.
  • Pilot conversion to the electric plane will not be a long and expensive process.
  • Good green credentials.

I think both projects will succeed, if they go well in the next year or so.

November 19, 2019 Posted by | Transport | , , , , | Leave a comment