ONE OF MY AVIATION OBSESSIONS
HYBRID ELECTRIC AIRCRAFT—IS BEING REALIZED (ALBEIT FAR TOO SLOWLY)
I’m not sure I accept the reasons for the slow adoption of hybrid electric aircraft—I think sheer inertia plus the difficulty of getting a new engine certified has a great deal to do with it—but this is what Dr. Paul Robertson of Cambridge University has to say (and here I am quoting from that ever excellent site www.gizmag.com ).
A quick aside on Gizmag. I read it daily to keep up with technology—and because it is an ongoing tribute to the more positive aspects of the human condition. Day after day, I cannot but be impressed—and cheered—by the ingenuity displayed. Apparently Gizmag now has 5 million readers—and I can well see why. Its stories are consistently well written, its photographic standards are high, and its range is wide. I find reading it makes me feel downright optimistic because again and again it comes up with answers to some pressing problem or other.
Whether these answers are applied adequately or correctly is another matter entirely—and a topic for another day. It is also not Gizmag’s function. It supplies the information. It is up to us to make use of it.
Currently, I am much preoccupied with the gap between problems and solutions. We have actually solved way more problems to do with improving the general quality of our lives than I think most of us realize—but seem to be slow at linking issue and answer. On the face of it, the internet would seem to be the solution, but so much information is out there that we are in danger of drowning in data. Framing the question correctly can go a long way towards resolving this, but I suspect we also need search engines geared to better comprehension of natural langue queries. I doubt we will have long to wait. However, in many cases we will still be faced with a multiplicity of answers.
We will then have to deal with determining the optimum solution for a given challenge—not a bad problem to have. But are we making the same progress with our politics and human interaction generally as we are technologically? It would appear not—particularly in the U.S. Nonetheless, even here, if you search globally, there are many more answers out there than we seem to understand. Fascinating stuff!
But I digress. Back to hybrid electric aircraft.
"Although hybrid cars have been available for more than a decade, what's been holding back the development of hybrid or fully-electric aircraft until now is battery technology. Until recently, they have been too heavy and didn't have enough energy capacity. But with the advent of improved lithium-polymer batteries, similar to what you’d find in a laptop computer, hybrid aircraft – albeit at a small scale – are now starting to become viable."
Gizmag is no stranger to hybrid aircraft. Volta Volaré promised its hybrid four-seater GT4 back in 2012, while just last month we featured the Faradair BEHA concept that will theoretically be powered by electric motors and a bio-diesel engine. The Cambridge/Boeing test plane is a much simpler design than both of those, however.
The single-seat aircraft, which is based on a commercially-available model, is powered by a Honda 4-stroke piston engine and a custom-made electric motor/generator. The two power sources are coupled so that either can drive the propeller. At times when a lot of power is required, such as during take-off, the plane uses both the engine and the motor to drive the propeller. Once it is at cruising height, however, it can use the motor only to reduce fuel consumption.
It is also possible for the motor to be switched into "generator mode" and for it to recharge the batteries while the plane is in flight. According to the University of Cambridge, this is the first time that this has been achieved. A module designed by the engineering department at Cambridge is used to control electrical current to and from the lithium-polymer cell batteries, 16 of which are housed in compartments in the wings.
The hybrid aircraft was tested at the Sywell Aerodrome, near Northampton, UK. Initial tests comprised a series of "hops" along the runway. These were then followed by longer flights at an altitude of over 1,500 ft (457 m). Ongoing tests are aimed at optimizing performance and fuel economy.
VOR words c.400