Flying trains. How soon will electric planes appear in the sky and who needs them?

Published by
Peter Kavinsky

A tiny start-up with an office near the airfield that once housed the first squadron of the legendary British Spitfires, hopes to write its name in the history of civil aviation, opening a new chapter in it – electric air travel.

Faradair plans to produce and market a hybrid electric aircraft for regional transportation. It will have up to 19 passenger seats, and as an engine – a propeller on an electric motor. A small gas turbine will be the source of electricity.

To increase the lifting force, as well as takeoff and landing at small airfields, the device will have three bearing surfaces. This will make the aircraft look a bit like a World War I fighter, although its aerodynamic performance will be state of the art.

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The head of the company, Gil Clowley, emphasizes that, compared to analogues, such a machine has significantly fewer moving parts, which will reduce operating costs. In addition, the aircraft engine produces much less noise and harmful emissions.

“Why don’t we use planes the same way we use buses?” asks Clowley.

“Mostly it’s about the cost of ownership. Also, a lot of planes means a lot of noise, and of course we have entered an era where sustainability has become an important part of our concern for the future,” he replies. “So we decided to make the plane not not only economical and therefore low cost, but also quiet and environmentally friendly.”

Faradair CEO Neil Clawley
PHOTOGRAPHER,A FARRIER
photo caption,
“Why don’t we use planes the same way we use buses?” asks Faradair CEO Neil Clawley

Faradair, says Cowley, will allow fast and cheap travel between cities that are not too far apart: for example, from London to Manchester you can fly for 25 pounds, which is cheaper than a train ticket.

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In more remote and inaccessible areas, this aircraft, capable of taking off and landing on short lanes, can be a real lifesaver: its operation will eliminate large-scale investments in conventional or railway lines.

It is planned that the first aircraft will take off in 2025, and full commercial use should begin in 2027.

Faradair is far from the only company to see the potential of electric aviation today, as governments around the world are looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint. Their project is far from the most ambitious of the existing ones.

California-based Wright Electric, for example, plans to bring a 100-seat all-electric aircraft to market by the middle of this decade. It will be based on the existing Bae146, but its four turbo engines will replace electric propellers.

The company has already entered into a partnership with a large low-cost airline Easyjet. The electric plane, as planned by Wright Electric, will be used for about an hour long flights – these are routes such as London – Paris, New York – Washington or Hong Kong – Taipei.

However, the aircraft will be tested not in fully electric, but in hybrid mode. At first, only one of the four Bae146 engines will be replaced with an electric motor. If the testing goes according to plan, then the rest of the engines will be replaced with electric motors.

Wright Electric CEO Jeffrey Engler says potential buyers have appreciated this approach and may be following it themselves in the future, in the production of new aircraft.

“When we spoke to the airlines, they said: why don’t you start with a hybrid instead of doing all-electric aircraft right away?” Engler says.

“It was the same with the automotive industry, which also started with hybrids. We are considering this possibility,” he adds.

The main difficulty in the electrification of the aircraft is that even the best batteries are not able to match jet fuel in terms of energy consumption per unit weight. This means that they are too heavy for long-distance flights.

Peter Kavinsky

Peter Kavinsky is the Executive Editor at cablefreetv.org

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