World’s First Hybrid Airplane
University of Cambridge has partnered with Boeing to carry out testing of the world’s first hybrid aircraft. According to the firm, it uses 30% less fuel when compared with a gas-only aircraft.
Project leader Dr. Paul Robertson from Cambridge’s Department of Engineering said, “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.”
The single-seat aircraft is based on a model that is available commercially and is powered by a 4-stroke piston engine by Honda along with a custom-made electric motor/generator. The power sources have been coupled in a way that they both can power the propeller. During take-off or when huge amount of power is required, the plane makes use of both power sources to crank the propeller.
Once the hybrid aircraft is in flight, the motor can continue assisting the engine to help in saving fuel and the engine can be used to charge batteries. As per University of Cambridge, this system has been successfully tested for the first time. The module designed by the very same university controls the amount of electric current that runs to and from the lithium polymer cell batteries. 16 of such batteries have been placed in compartments located in the wings.
The plane was tested at Sywell Aerodome, close to Northampton, UK. The first series of tests included an array of ‘hops’ on the runway. The next stage saw longer flight spans at an altitude of more than 457 meters. The current tests will help in optimizing the performance and fuel economy of the plane.