Airbus hopes to do for aviation what Tesla has done for motoring as the aircraft manufacturer commits to building its all-electric E-Fan plane.
Built with a strong but light composite chassis, with two electric engines powered by high-efficiency lithium batteries, the E-Fan has already gone soaring from the drawing board into the skies.
The original prototype has notched up almost 80 flights since April 2014, and Airbus will now put the next-gen E-Fan 2.0 into production for a maiden flight in 2017.
While the two-seater E-Fan 2.0 will be aimed at basic pilot training, it will be followed from 2019 by a four-seat E-Fan 4.0 intended for the general aviation market.
The E-Fan 4.0 will adopt a hybrid system, using a small engine to charge the battery in-flight charge and extend flying time from the 60 minutes of the E-Fan 2.0 to over three hours.
There's also an onboard backup battery to assist with an emergency landing in case the primary battery runs out of juice while you're still in the air.
With its microjet form and large engines mounted tight on the chassis instead of slung under the wing, the E-Fan certainly looks like something from the future – or perhaps how somebody in the 1970s imagined their near-future would if people owned private jets instead of private cars.
"110 years after the dawn of heavier-than-air powered flight, a new transformation is coming to aviation" boasts Jean Botti, Airbus' Chief Technical Officer.
"The industrialisation of our E-Fan aircraft will help us to advance electric flight and also to gain experience to scale up the technology.”
Botti's goal – which, if achieved at all, will come long after his retirement – is full-scale production of the E-Thrust regional aircraft.
Like the E-Fan 4.0, the E-Thrust will rely on a hybrid power system to carry up to 90 passengers – around three-quarters the capacity of the Boeing 717 jets flown today by Qantas Link.
The distant end-game, says Airbus, is an all-electric or hybrid 'electroliner' which could make even today's fuel-efficient Airbus A350s and Boeing 787s seem like gas-guzzling dinosaurs.
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