Retrofittable electric engine adds power and safety to light aircraft
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.