Aircraft

Retrofittable electric engine adds power and safety to light aircraft

Retrofittable electric engine ...
Additional electric engine adds safety and power to light aircraft
Additional electric engine adds safety and power to light aircraft
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The electric propulsion on the test plane in flight
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The electric propulsion on the test plane in flight
Location and arrangement of the electric propulsion system components
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Location and arrangement of the electric propulsion system components
System diagram of the retrofit electric propulsion system
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System diagram of the retrofit electric propulsion system
The electric system in test
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The electric system in test
Additional electric engine adds safety and power to light aircraft
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Additional electric engine adds safety and power to light aircraft
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Small,single-engine aircraft are the mainstay of recreational flying, and providemany hours of generally safe enjoyment for hundreds of thousands of enthusiastsworldwide. However, with only one engine on-board, they are also often only asmall malfunction away from becoming a heavy, unpowered glider in dire need ofsomewhere to land. To help improve this situation, researchers at UniversidadCarlos III de Madrid (UC3M) and AXTER Aerospace have created anauxiliary electric propulsion unit designed to be installed inconventionally-powered light aircraft to both increase available power andprovide extra range in the event of an engine failure.

Primarily aimed at improvingthe safety of light passenger aircraft with masses of up to 750kg (1,650 lb), the retrofittable electric propulsion system has been created indirect response to a perceived need in the light aircraft space.

"We are trying to saveslives and prevent accidents related to loss of power during flights, when theengine fails or the fuel runs out," says Miguel Ángel Suárez, from AXTERAerospace. "We mustn’t forget that every year in Europe and USA there are anaverage of 600 accidents, 70 deaths and 24 million euros (US$27 million) in losses recorded."

The new arrangementsees an electric engine coupled to the conventional engine via the conventionaldrive system. There's also a high-efficiency lithium battery charged by the plane’sconventional engine, and an automatic electronic control system that automaticallyadjusts the electric drive motor to the needs of the plane.

"If there is a problem withthe main engine, this electric engine will start to function, which willprovide an additional range of about 20 kilometers, enough for the pilot toland safely," said Andrés Barrado, head of the UC3M Electric Power Systemsgroup.

An extra 20 km (12 miles) maynot seem a lot, but given that most light aircraft fly in a pattern not too farfrom their originating airfield, it could make the difference between returningto the safety of the airport or crashing in a field.

Serendipitously, theemergency propulsion system can also add around 40 extra horsepower (30 kW), asneeded and when selected by the pilot. Not quite in the realm of a super-powered electric unit like the Siemens 260 kW (340 hp) monster, perhaps, but a handy addition to the lowly-powered engines of many light planes nonetheless.

"We maximize the capacity of the battery ingenerating movement with the electric engine, and we have found that we canalso use the system as a hybrid for light aircraft: the pilot can activate itwhen she wants, adding up to 40 horsepower for take-offs or whatever isneeded," said Daniel Cristobal, from AXTER Aerospace.

Currently being promoted andpatented around the world, the creators claim that their system can beinstalled in all manner of light aircraft, either as a retrofit or in the constructionof new aircraft. Claimed to reduceoperating and maintenance bills, whilst lowering fuel consumption, the makersalso assert that it may one day also be available for other types of craft, includinggyroplanes, drones and UAVs.

The short video below shows testing and use of the new system.

Source: Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, AXTER Aerospace

Nuevo sistema eléctrico de propulsión para mejorar la seguridad en aviación ligera

View gallery - 5 images
9 comments
Bob
How much does it weigh? How will the balance(CG) of the plane be affected? What is the life expectancy of the battery? How is it affected by temperature in mountainous locations? And of course, how much will it cost?
Mihai Pruna
But can it handle loss of power on take-off, to allow for a safe return to the airport? That is the worst moment to lose an engine and I don't think 40hp would allow most airplanes to climb to pattern altitude and circle back.
Martin Hone
What a great idea, and a very good installation. That extra 40 hp would add about 50% more power during take-off, which would translate directly into 50% better climb rate !
christopher
Planes are already very safe - adding this new thing to the prop will probably introduce way more failures, than it would save any of the few-and-far-between people who might need this.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
This system could be lighter and lower maintenance than the all-ICE system.
John Banister
If they have a storage battery and an electric motor for safety, another thought might be a retractable motor-glider style prop in the rear used with a generator during descent to allow the inherent energy in the plane's altitude to transfer to the battery for power during the final stage of landing.
Nostromo47
Takeoff is the most critical phase of airplane flight in terms of safety. In a rare minority of takeoffs, an engine out emergency demands a jolting shift in thinking in terms of scrambling to find a safe place to set down, now! Having an auxiliary motor available to kick in would give the pilot additional precious options to accomplish that critical task. Obviously, the higher and faster beyond stalling speed the airplane is going at the time will make all the difference in the degree to which the auxiliary motor will help. Another plus side not mentioned is potentially lowering insurance premiums on aircraft so equipped. This could offset some of the expense of the device. All that being said, lightplane flying is still far safer than driving!
Charles Hoss
amazing . 40 HP is more than enough for takeoff - so in this case I'd go for a smaller IC engine + this electric system for takeoff . this could significantly lower the fuel consumption of the plane .