Wright tests its 2-megawatt electric engines for passenger planes – TechCrunch

Just like the automotive industry, the aerospace industry aims to go electric – but flying with battery-powered motors is more difficult than taxiing. Wright is one of the startups looking to change the math and enable electrified flying beyond small planes – and his 2-megawatt engine could power the first generation of large electric passenger aircraft.

Electric cars have proven to be a great success, but they have the advantage over airplanes that they don’t have to generate enough lift to keep their own mass in the air. Electric airplanes have been held back by this fundamental mystery that the weight of the batteries required to fly any distance with passengers on board makes the airplane too heavy to fly at all.

In order to avoid this riddle, the main thing is to improve efficiency: How much thrust can be generated per watt of power. Since reducing battery mass is a long, slow process, it’s better to innovate in other ways: materials, airframe, and of course the powerplant, which in traditional jets is a huge, immensely heavy, and complex internal combustion engine.

Electric motors are generally lighter, simpler, and more reliable than fuel-powered motors, but to get a flight you have to get a certain level of efficiency. If a jet burns a thousand gallons of fuel per second, the plane couldn’t hold the amount it takes to take off. So it’s up to companies like Wright and H3x to build electric motors that can generate more thrust from the same amount of stored energy.

While H3x focuses on small planes that are likely to fly sooner, Wright founder Jeff Engler stated that if you want to reduce the aerospace carbon footprint, you really have to start with commercial passenger airliners – and Wright plans to do one to build. Fortunately, despite the company name, they don’t have to build it fully completely new.

“We’re not reinventing the concept of the wing or the fuselage or anything like that. What changes is what the plane is propelling, ”said Engler. He compared it to electric vehicles insofar as a lot of the car doesn’t change when you drive it electrically, mainly the parts that have basically functioned the same for a century. Nevertheless, the integration of a new propulsion system into an aircraft is not a trivial matter.

Wright’s motor is a 2 megawatt motor with an output of 2,700 hp and an efficiency of around 10 kilowatts per kilogram. “It is the most powerful motor developed for the electrical aerospace industry, by a factor of two, and it is significantly lighter than anything else on the market,” said Engler.

The ease comes from a major redesign using a permanent magnet approach with “an aggressive thermal strategy,” he explained. A voltage higher than that normally used for aerospace purposes and an appropriate isolation system enables an engine to achieve the power and efficiency required to get a large aircraft into flight.

CG rendering of an airplane powered by Wright engines

Credit: Wright

Wright ensures that its engines can also be used in retrofitted aircraft, but is also working with established aircraft manufacturers on their own aircraft. That first vehicle would be a hybrid electric vehicle that combines the lightweight, efficient drive stack with the range of a liquid fuel engine. Using hydrogen complicates things, but allows for a much faster transition to electric flight and huge reductions in emissions and fuel consumption.

Several of Wright’s engines would be attached to each wing of the proposed aircraft, which has at least two advantages. First, redundancy. Airplanes with two giant engines are designed so that they can fly even if one fails. If you have six or eight engines, failure isn’t nearly as catastrophic and, as a consequence, the plane doesn’t have to carry twice as many engines as you need. Second, the stability and noise reduction is the result of multiple motors that can be adjusted individually or together to reduce vibrations and counteract turbulence.

Right now the engine is in laboratory tests at sea level, and once it passes those tests (the plan is sometime next year) it will run in an altitude simulation chamber and then at a real altitude of 10,000 feet. This is a long-term project, but an entire industry doesn’t change overnight.

Engler highlighted the enthusiasm and support the company has received from NASA and the military, who have both provided considerable money, materials and expertise. When I came up with the idea that the company’s engine might end up in a new bomb drone, he said he was sensitive to that possibility, but that what he’s seen (and is aiming for) is much more in line with the Department of Defense’s endless cargo and personnel flights. It turns out that the military is a big polluter, and they want to change that – and also spend less money on fuel.

“Think about how things changed when we switched from propellers to jets,” said Engler. “It redefined how an airplane works. This new drive technology enables the entire industry to be redesigned. “

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