The electric vehicle industry is forever growing and now reaching the aviation world with start-up, Zunum Aero. The Boeing and JetBlue-backed company plans to launch their hybrid electric plane by 2022 flying 12 passengers 500 miles. Ambitious maybe but according to reports, Zunum Aero is well on the way to achieving their goal.
Earlier this month JetSuite signed up as the launch customer for Zunum’s first hybrid electric plane. The Southern California charter air service announced a deal to take up to 100 Zunum aircraft.
Zunum Aero Hybrid Electric Planes
As with electric cars, battery life remains a real concern. Considering the average 100-mile range of most electric vehicles, there is much room for improvement. Development of battery technology is still a few years away from offering true value especially in aviation. Fossil fuel like kerosene, for example, produces and stores six to eight times more energy than the most advanced lithium-ion batteries. It’s for that reason the new Zunum Aero aircraft will not be fully electric until the technology becomes available.
Zunum is yet to name their new hybrid electric plane but internally it’s known as ZA10. The initial design will be a hybrid-electrical system with extensive battery packs in the wings accounting for almost a quarter of the total weight. These specifications are for current hybrid and future all-electric aircraft. The hybrid power unit will generate 1300 hp (1000 kW) driving two ducted fans with a range extender. A gas turbine producing 670 hp (500 kW), which shuts down once the plane is at cruising altitude, is mounted in the rear fuselage.
The maximum cruising speed is set to be 340 mph (547 kmh) with a range of up to 1000 miles (1610 km). It only requires 2 200 feet (670 meters) of runway for takeoff and landing which opens up many possibilities. This potentially means access to additional smaller airports previously unable to support passenger planes. In the US along there are 5000 secondary airports near residential areas. Imagine what this means for remote areas especially once advanced battery technology increases flight range.
Projections, Statistics and Potential
Their main aim is the commercial aviation market for fast travel between cities 350 to 500 miles (560 – 804 km) apart. Operating costs are significant and bigger airliners struggle to keep cost down when flying short distances. For starters, planes are only really efficient at cruising speed which means short distance flying is not feasible enough. Ticket prices remain high to cover all the operating costs which has led to many airlines losing money in the long-term.
The Zunum hybrid electric plane promises to be a real revelation for short distance flying. Its hybrid power system could dramatically lower the cost of flying between locations in closer proximity. In fact, Zunum Aero projects that ‘cost per seat mile’ will be about 8 cents or $250.00 (£188) per hour to operate the aircraft. Claims suggest that the hybrid electric powertrain will generate up to 80% less noise (65 EPNdB) and 80-100% lower emissions than conventional aircraft.
In addition, the new plane will carry 12 people meaning it’s essentially a charter or an air taxi aircraft and not part of a scheduled airline service. It opens up on-demand flying which could save business travelers hours when traveling through airports with no scheduled airline service.
Funded by Boeing HorizonX, JetBlue Technology Ventures and the State of Washington Clean Energy Fund, Zunum Aero is a worthy adversary in such a competitive industry. The first test flight is said to be as early as 2019 and unlikely as that may sound, it’s certainly possible. What Zunum Aero might lack in some areas, the considerable technical, regulatory and manufacturing expertise from its backers make up for it in spades.
What are your thoughts on eventually traveling in an all-electric plane? Will it be better and safer than conventional planes or is it just another R&D project promising the world? Please share your comments in the section below or find us on social media and remember to use #PRVTech.
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