If you’ve ever spent some time researching carbon emissions and looking at how much your daily travel impacts your footprint, you might have noticed that air travel took up a pretty significant chunk.
For people who take planes regularly, their carbon footprints will be sizeable, and until recently, it seemed like a problem that we might never solve.
The electric airplane is set to change all of that and offer a way for people to travel across the globe in mere hours, all without the burning of fuel and causing harmful emissions.
Although there is still a long way to go until people are traveling on battery-powered aircraft, there is hope for the future.
So, are electric airplanes a myth or are they possible?
Patents for the first electric airplane have been created for years but executing them hasn’t always been successful. In 2011, a German plane called the e-Genius made history by flying a 300-mile distance without the use of fuel, but before and after this maiden flight, there have been several important advancements.
With the huge success of the electric bike and electric car, it makes sense to look for the next vehicle or machine to get an eco-friendly makeover, and the airplane is it.
We’re here to look at electric airplanes of the past to get an idea of where they might be headed in the future, and a hopeful way to drastically reduce our carbon emissions created by this means of transport.
Can a Plane Be Electric?
The first recorded attempt at electric flight occurred in the 1800s when two French military engineers used an electric motor and batteries on an aircraft to get it to fly.
Although advancements stalled for a while after this, the world became obsessed with electric innovation again in the second half of the 20th century, and electric and solar power became the focus.
Electric air travel is entirely possible, as these aircraft harnesses the power of solar or battery-powered electricity to get their motors working, rather than burning fuel.
Cracking the code of electric air travel will not only mean fewer carbon emissions for the planet, but cheaper travel, quieter flight paths, and faster flight times due to short and sharp bursts of travel that electric vehicles are capable of.
In the past 20 years, exciting research and development meant that various companies were vying to be the first to crack the electric airplane code.
Although there have been exciting advancements and test flights that prove it is possible, electric airplanes aren’t yet available for public use.
However, as businesses look for ways to reduce their emissions and make transport greener, nobody stands to benefit more than the flight industry, and so many noteworthy developments have been made.
Electric Planes You Need to Know About
If you look back at the history of electric planes, you might be surprised to learn how many successful ones there have been.
To get an idea of how close we are to achieving a mainstream method of flying, check out the most important electric planes in history and those planned for the future.
In October of 1973, the Militky MB-E1 became the first full-sized and manned aircraft to be flown completely on electrical power.
This was a modified HB-3 that used an 8-10 kW electric motor to operate and the conversion was done by Heinz W. Brditschka.
The first test flights only lasted a maximum of 12 minutes and reached an altitude of 1,247 feet, but they were all made possible with the Ni-Cd battery that powered them.
From there, many test runs were performed and it was the last battery-powered aircraft that would be flown successfully for some time, as solar-powered aircraft became the norm for years after.
The AstroFlight Sunrise became the first unmanned aircraft to fly using solar power, and it set the standards for this type of flight.
As an experimental electric aircraft developed in 1970, the Sunrise flew just a short distance from a military base in California and reached an altitude of 500 feet.
After 28 flights in 1974 using only solar energy to power the engine, the prototype crashed due to turbulence.
However, during this testing period, it had been able to reach altitudes of up to 8,000 feet which was a vast improvement on its maiden voyage.
Lange Aviation built the Antares glider in three different sizes of 18, 20, and 23 meter wingspans.
The 20 and 23 meter models used 42 kW electric motors and lithium-ion batteries to power them up, and in 2003, became the first electric aircraft to obtain a certificate of airworthiness.
Solar Impulse 2
Another huge leap forward for solar-powered flights was made with the Solar Impulse 2.
This aircraft flew with a maximum speed of 87 mph and used four electric motors that were powered by four lithium ion batteries, all getting their energy from the sun.
The inaugural flight of Solar Impulse 2 was in 2014 and it reached an altitude of 5,500 feet.
Later, it would become the first piloted fixed-wing aircraft to make a round the world trip using only solar energy, which took 16 months to complete.
Uber doesn’t just help you get where you need to go without a car, but they also plan to be able to fly you there as well.
Uber is working with NASA and the research arm of the US Army to create UberAir which will be a smaller flying machine that’s capable of taking 150 passengers on shorter distance journeys, only relying on electric power.
Their goal is to create an air taxi that can fly up to 2,000 feet at 150 mph, designed to take passengers to destinations within its capable radius.
The aircraft can travel up to 60 miles on a single battery charge and will be autonomously piloted, with commercial use hopefully ready by 2023.
The e-Genius broke records in 2011 when it became the first plane to travel a 62 mile distance using only electric power.
The two-seater aircraft reached heights of more than 20,000 feet and traveled for 300 miles, breaking records set before it.
Since then, the e-Genius has broken its initial record and gone even further without the use of fuel, creating no emissions in its path.
With an all-electric motor that only needs a single battery to operate and a running cost of around $3 per flight, it signals exciting times for the future of air travel.
Boeing is a name known for aircraft and they’ve partnered with NASA to come up with a proposal for an electric plane with a difference.
They hope that the Sugar Volt will be the first hybrid plane that uses both electricity and fuel to operate, dramatically cutting emissions and saving a lot of money in the process.
Although it won’t be ready for commercial flights until after 2030, the Sugar Volt plane has a series of goals it wants to achieve by the time it’s approved for travel.
According to Boeing, the aircraft will operate at a volume of 71 decibels less than the current noise standards, reduce fuel burn by up to 70 percent, and reduce the current nitrogen oxide emission standards by 75 percent.
Electric airplanes are an exciting sign of what’s to come for the future of transport, following in the footsteps of electric cars and electric bikes that have already become mainstream methods of transportation.
If you want to know more about the possibility of electric aircraft and how they will change the way we travel, check out our FAQs to get some more knowledge about how it all works.
Are Electric Planes Safe?
For an electric plane to be approved for public use, it has to undergo rigorous testing in regards to its safety which can take years to do.
One of the issues that electric vehicles face in terms of safety has to do with their battery cells, as the risk of them catching fire after prolonged use, like during a flight, becomes a bigger problem.
However, any large scale commercial aircraft will be tested thoroughly by the governing bodies before being approved for use.
Will Electric Panes be Cheaper?
Although it’s hard to say until they’re ready for public use, it’s expected that an electric aircraft will be cheaper to run than a fuel-powered one.
When compared to differences that other electric vehicles have compared to their fuelled counterparts, you can expect to save hundreds of dollars in running costs per hour, which will hopefully be passed onto the passengers.