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The Emergence of Electric Propulsion Engines and the Increase in Hybrid-Electric Aircraft

Friday, March 25, 2022
Categories : Market Trends

Hybrid-electric aircraft are expected to become a part of fare-paying passenger service by 2032, according to Roland Berger's panel of aerospace experts. The consulting firm added, “around the globe, around 215 electrically-propelled aircraft are currently in development. We are now witnessing an age of innovation in aerospace and aviation of a type not seen for decades.”

This means OEMs will soon need to decide whether to invest in new aircraft with conventional propulsion systems or take the leap to bring new electric technology to market. In this article, we take a look at some of the companies on the forefront of these trends and the impact this might have on the global supply chain over the next decade.

Global Brands Getting Into The Game
GE Aviation
According to Aerospace Manufacturing and Design, "Hybrid electric propulsion technologies can save fuel and optimize engine performance, helping the aviation industry reach its commitment of net-zero CO2 emissions from flight by 2050." One company exploring the use of hybrid-electric aircraft is GE Aviation, who recently selected Boeing to support flight tests of its hybrid-electric propulsion system. Boeing and its subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences will provide GE Aviation with airplane modification, system integration, and flight-testing services. That work includes nacelle manufacturing, flight deck interface design and software, aircraft-level performance analysis, and systems integration.

Aerospace Manufacturing and Design
Lockheed Martin

In January 2022, Lockheed Martin Ventures (LMV) announced that it made an undisclosed investment in eSTOL aircraft developer Electra through a Series A funding round. Using blown-lift technology, the hybrid-electric aircraft features a patent-pending distributed electrical propulsion system and will have a small turbine-powered generator to recharge batteries during flights. The as-yet-unnamed model will carry seven to nine passengers or up to 1,800 pounds of cargo on sectors of up to 500 miles.

Electras hybrid-electric eSTOL aircraft

Boeing

In addition to partnering with GE Aviation, earlier this year, the company announced that it’s investing $450 million in Wisk Aero, an OEM focused exclusively on building all-electric, autonomous, passenger-carrying aircraft. The investment established Wisk Aero as one of the most well-funded Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) companies in the world. The company’s 6th generation eVTOL aircraft will represent a first-ever candidate for the certification of an autonomous, all-electric, passenger-carrying aircraft in the U.S.

Rolls-Royce

Bracing for explosive growth in the electrification of mobility, UK-based engineering giant Rolls-Royce is developing various all-electric and hybrid-electric drive systems for aircraft. In fact, in the middle of last year, Rolls-Royce started testing the first elements of the most powerful hybrid-electric aero power and propulsion system in aerospace at a newly-renovated testbed.

Airbus

Last year, Airbus launched its inaugural electric airplane race — the Air Race E — featuring all of its hybrid electric aircraft projects. Airbus is currently investing in a series of different projects including EcoPulseCityAirbusVahanaE-Fan X, E-Fan 1.0, and E-Fan 1.1.

Airbus E-Fan is a prototype electric aircraft F-WILE departing Farnborough Airport

NASA

According to Forbes, NASA has also been focusing on trying to develop an all-electric plane. It has spent the last decade working on the battery and design for a two-seater plane, the X-57, as a way to help develop the needed technology. The X-57 is designed to have a range of about 100 miles and a cruising speed of 172mph. The plane is currently in a high-voltage ground testing phase and is a part of NASA’s Electrified Powertrain Flight Demonstration (EPFD) project, a $260 million effort to research and test hybrid electric propulsion systems and demonstrate flight readiness for single-aisle aircraft. The program includes investments from NASA, GE Aviation, Boeing, among others over the next five years.

New Companies and New Concepts Driving Demand
MagniX

MagniX has developed a family of electric propulsion units for aerospace and defense aircraft. With high levels of reliability, unparalleled performance and operational practicality, MagniX can work with multiple sources of energy including batteries, fuel cells and more. In September of 2021, MagniX won a five-year, $74.3 million NASA contract to demonstrate electric propulsion technologies for aircraft. And by 2022, MagniX anticipates the first test flight of the Eviation Alice.

ZeroAvia

The first hybrid hydrogen-electric aircraft are due to take to the air this year, including the prototype of a 19-seater German-built Dornier 228, converted by British company ZeroAvia. ZeroAvia, a green aviation startup backed by Amazon and Alaska Air, will build a research and development space in Seattle. In an effort to seek climate-friendly aviation,  ZeroAvia aims to enable "scalable, sustainable aviation by replacing conventional engines with hydrogen-electric powertrains."

Zunum Aero

Zunum Aero has a bold plan for a low-carbon flying future. The Kirkland, Wasington.-based startup plans to deliver its first hybrid electric plane in 2022. The company, which has backing from Boeing and JetBlue’s venture capital arms, unveiled details of its aircraft in October 2021. The 12-seater jet, best suited for short commuter trips, will have a range of 700 miles and maximum cruise speed of 340 miles per hour. It will generate 80 percent fewer emissions and produce 75 percent less noise.

Zunum Aero 2022 Aircraft

Volocopter

Volocopter, an electric aircraft startup, recently performed its first crewed air taxi flight over Gimpo International Airport in Seoul. Volocopter utilizes electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) to harness the ability to take off and land without an extended runway. This technology means that aircraft can board and disembark passengers in tight locations, perfect for traveling across the city.

Wisk Aero

Additionally, researchers use autonomous technology to power air taxis with precise control. For example, Wisk Aero, a leading autonomous advanced air mobility (AAM) company, is utilizing autonomous technology to develop the first all-electric, self-flying air taxi in the U.S. According to Wisk, the company's autonomous technology is a "competitive differentiator and industry-recognized key to scaling services and maximizing safety."

A Wisk Aero eVTOL aircraft in flight

What Does All of This Mean?

The pace of development in the field is gaining speed, with more than double the number in 2016. Though technological and regulatory hurdles remain, once overcome, electrical propulsion will impact the aviation industry, in general, and company business models, specifically.

The more complicated the machine, the more hermetically sealed components you need to get the job done. Which means suddenly, your supply chain partner becomes far more important.

And as things ramp up, sustainable aviation strategies will need to include measures from OEMs to reduce their supply chain risk by actively protecting the inventory of the components that go into building an aircraft. As a result, in the future, it will be increasingly important to replace the traditional, adversarial buyer-seller relationships, which tend to be focused on achieving the lowest price possible, with more collaborative partnerships built around safeguarding your overall supply chain.

When thousands of hermetically sealed components are needed for a single aircraft, finding the right partner to support your supply chain needs can help OEMs develop cost-effective electric aviation strategies and introduce greater flexibility around their cost base. 

At Sealtron, we make things that most people never see. But they’re essential to making components that make aircraft equipment work — like engines, landing gear, actuators, and more. When tens of thousands of our products go on a single aircraft, our components can be a big player in your supply chain.

About Sealtron

Sealtron is the world’s most focused, responsive, and experienced circular hermetic connector manufacturer providing qualified commercial and MIL-STD connectors for a wide range of applications. Our products are made to the highest industry standards – making us your go-to partner when you need highly qualified, high volume hermetic seal connectors.

The Sealtron factory is Qualified Products Listed (QPL’d) on the most significant Mil spec glass-to-metal-sealed connector types in the aerospace industry. Sealtron is owned by AMETEK, a leading global manufacturer of electronic instruments and electromechanical devices.

Our sister brand, Hermetic Seal, is the go-to premier designer and manufacturer of high-reliability custom hermetically sealed electrical interconnection devices.

Join Us!

Farnborough International Airshow | July 18-22, 2022

Innovation in commercial aviation and military aircraft continues to advance at a rapid rate. At Sealtron, we stay one step ahead of what's on the horizon. We'll be at the Farnborough International Airshow sharing our thoughts on how Sealtron is addressing the supply chain challenges of our industry. Schedule a time to talk today!" Learn more here.

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