Researchers successfully tested a passenger hybrid-electric plane

The test was supported by the US Department of Energy.
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Electric motor drive tested in flight on an hybrid electric aircraft
Electric motor drive tested in flight on an hybrid-electric aircraft.

University of Arkansas 

Engineering researchers at the University of Arkansas marked a significant advancement in their field by completing a successful test flight of an electric motor drive on a hybrid electric aircraft, according to a university release.

The project may have a substantial impact on the aeronautics sector and have enormously positive effects on environmental quality.

Little aircraft like the Cessna 337 feature two gasoline-powered engines that undertake the labor-intensive tasks of air propulsion and acceleration as well as lighter activities like taxiing, cruising, and landing. These aircraft are generally used as air taxis in island regions and rural laces. These engines are infamous for using a lot of fuel.

Researchers at the University of Arkansas have been working on a challenging project to design and create battery-powered motor drives that can be used in place of one of the gas-powered engines for a number of years.

The project is being led by Alan Mantooth, Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering and Executive Director of the National Center for Reliable Electric Power Transmission (NCREPT).

The US Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy CIRCUITS program, or ARPA-E, a US government organization that supports and funds early-stage research and development of breakthrough energy technologies, provided financing for the project.

Mantooth and University of Arizona researchers created a 250-kilowatt motor drive David Huitink, Yue Zhao, and Chris Farnell to power a rear electrical engine in a hybrid electric aircraft testbed built by Southern California's Ampaire Inc., an electrified aircraft firm.

How does this electrical engine work?

The rear electrical engine of the aircraft works in tandem with a gasoline-powered engine up front to propel the craft during taxiing, takeoff, cruising, and landing.

Wolfspeed, a registered producer of silicon-carbide semiconductors, provided commercial power modules and integration know-how to create the electronic motor drive. Ampaire guided the academically-led team through the demanding environmental testing specifications derived from aircraft hardware standards and required to qualify and confirm the performance and dependability of the motor drive on a road to test flight.

Ampaire successfully piloted the aircraft using the inverter technology developed by the research team after around 18 months of ground testing and validations proving the technology. On February 20, a test flight occurred at the Camarillo airfield near Los Angeles.

“With recent refinements, we’ve managed to optimize the design of the electrical-thermal-mechanical-control systems — in other words, all aspects of the motor drive are now simultaneously optimized,” Mantooth said.

“This has major implications for the new and emerging era of electrification of transportation vehicles, whether they be planes, trains, automobiles, heavy equipment, ships, or drones. We’re extremely excited about this work.”

The hybrid aircraft was on exhibit and examined by Jennifer Granholm, the US Secretary of Energy, at the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit in Denver in 2022.

The test flight comes before the 2023 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Conference, which will be hosted in Washington, D.C., from March 22–24. it follows thorough testing and evaluation. Ampaire will carry out additional test flights with the help of the research team and keep gathering data to enhance upcoming designs.

The National Science Foundation Center for Power Optimization of Electro-Thermal Systems was the birthplace of the cooperation that led to the creation of the project. The institute, which is based at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, concentrates on enhanced electrification in all forms of transportation and mobility.

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