Siemens, the diversified German firm with projects in agriculture, automotive, food, healthcare, smartphone technology, propulsion systems, and more, showcased the firm’s all-electric eAircraft for the first time in the United States March 27. The two-person airplane is powered by a 60-pound, 55kW, 74-horsepower, direct-drive electric SP55D motor that was highlighted during an Innovation Day demonstration in Chicago.
The eAircraft is powered by a lower-wattage version of the company’s SP260D electric engine that was fitted to an Extra 330LE aerobatic aircraft and set a climb record in 2016. The SP55D weighs about half as much as the 348-horsepower SP260D.
Teri Hamlin, the company’s vice president of electric and hybrid electric propulsion, noted that the aviation industry was “on the verge” of a shift toward electrified propulsion. Hamlin, a 24-year U.S. Air Force military and commercial pilot, said eAircraft technology provided reduced fuel consumption, lower emissions, and noise reductions. Under her leadership, Siemens established an eAircraft team in Texas to continue to develop the technology.
Siemens officials cited increased battery reliability, artificial intelligence, and other technological advances as factors helping to make electrically powered aircraft a reality.
Hamlin said trends show air traffic doubling every 15 years, and the increased activity brings corresponding “capacity constraints and sustainability concerns.” Without alternate energy sources, the predicted growth in manned and unmanned air traffic would likely lead to additional noise pollution and a larger carbon footprint. Siemens theorized that by going electric, the aviation industry could reduce environmental impacts and boost the efficiency of air travel.
Because electrified transport is quieter than combustion or jet propulsion, the widespread use of electric motors is expected to cut noise to the point that 24-hour aircraft operations would be feasible. Theoretically, the technological advances would open the door to replace some forms of ground transportation with air travel—especially in urban environments already experiencing traffic gridlock.
Siemens USA CEO Lisa Davis said the company poured more than $6.3 billion into digital research and development in 2017. Part of that research focused on electric propulsion technology for manned and unmanned aircraft in the GA, commercial, defense, and urban mobility sectors. Siemens said it is already testing three basic electric substitutes for conventional engine technology: battery-electric, serial hybrid-electric, and parallel hybrid-electric powerplants.
As the market ramps up, Hamlin predicted the initial wave of electric aircraft would likely be seen in the ultralight and military sector later in 2018, with certified two- and four-seat aircraft by 2022. Just three years later, passengers would be boarding the first medium-range aircraft, and by 2030 airlines would be “offering scheduled flights based on hybrid-driven aircraft.”
During her presentation, Hamlin projected that e-propulsion will be “the standard solution for all aircraft segments” by 2050.