When we first covered the news of the E-Fan's first public flight, Airbus was only showing an artist's impression of what the production model of the two-seater electric demonstrator could look like. But this year the company had a full-sized version on display at the 51st Paris Air Show. In addition to straining our ears to listen to hear the original aircraft in the air above Le Bourget, we got the opportunity to rub shoulders with the sleek and sexy E-Fan 2.0 electric pilot trainer.
The original E-Fan plane, now called version 1.0, evolved from the electric Cri Cri flying laboratory project and allowed engineers to get a hands-on feel for work in this burgeoning area of research and development. The design of the new demonstrator aircraft began in late 2011. It was unveiled at the 50th Paris Air Show in 2013, made its maiden flight a few months later and has since made appearances in the air above the Farnborough and ILA Berlin air shows.
Two electric motors, 32 kW each, drive a pair of ducted, variable pitch fans positioned toward the center line of the carbon fiber composite body, which quickly and quietly get the E-Fan to a takeoff speed of 110 km/h (68 mph), 160 km/h cruising speed and a top speed of over 200 km/h. The aircraft also has an electrically-driven aft main wheel to taxi and assist with acceleration during takeoff.
Its 29 kWh Li-ion 18650 batteries can be found in the inboard section of the wings (catering for ventilation and passive cooling) and offer from 45 minutes to an hour of flight time per charge, with the design also allowing for battery pack hotswaps. Electrical system management is undertaken by a full authority digital control (e-FADEC) system to reduce pilot workload.
Much of what the Airbus Group has learned over the last few years will be incorporated into the "world's first series production electric planes" – the E-Fan 2.0 and 4.0 aircraft. Work on the new all-electric, battery-powered two-seater pilot training flavor and the four person hybrid electric motor/combustion engine version will be undertaken by Voltair SAS, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Airbus, which will also offer post-production services.
Both aircraft will be built at an upcoming 1,500 sq m (16,000 sq ft) facility located at Pau Pyrénées Airport in the southwest of France, within the country's so-called "Aerospace Valley."
Construction of the E-Fan assembly line is expected to begin next year. The first E-Fan 2.0 is set to make its maiden flight in late 2017, followed by the series aircraft rolling out to customers the year after. An initial production rate of 10 aircraft per year has been targeted, with the facility capable of growth depending on market demand.
The Airbus Group has committed to investing €20 million (about US$22 million) in the development of the E-Fan 2.0 production aircraft, and will be pitching for CS-LSA certification to international civil airworthiness standards with a maximum take-off weight of under 600 kg.
Designed for basic pilot training, it has a 10.98 m (36 ft) wingspan, is 5.67 m (18.6 ft) from nose to tail and is under 2 m at its highest point. The aircraft will feature side-by-side instructor/student seating in what Airbus is calling a Connected Cockpit, where the Primary Flight Display will be supplemented by a tablet-like device that will allow the pilot to prepare a flight plan away from the E-Fan 2.0 and then plug it into the instrument panel to act as the navigation and training display. Data recorded during the flight can be retrieved from the tablet later for evaluation, logging or training purposes.
Airbus is looking to use new higher density batteries for its production version electric airplanes and says that the ground-based charging station will bring them to capacity in 1.5 hours. Instructors and students can then expect a good hour in the air between charges, with a 30 minute reserve just in case an emergency landing needs to be undertaken.
At this time, there's little solid information available on the four-seat hybrid airplane, where the combustion engine will be used to extend the range of the aircraft. The E-Fan 4.0 is being developed for full pilot license training and the general aviation market and the Airbus Group is currently eyeing a production window of 2019.
The video below outlines some of the thinking behind the development of the E-Fan electric aircraft, and be sure to check the gallery for photos of the existing technology demonstrator and a static full scale mock up of the upcoming pilot training aircraft at the Paris Air Show.
Source: Airbus Group