Amongst the bustling exhibitions of large manufacturers at the 2019 Dubai Airshow, and mounting orders for Airbus aircraft but also (surprisingly) Boeing 737-MAX’s, there has been a subliminal theme of the ‘Future of Flight’. We take a look at one man looking to revolutionise air racing – through climate friendly electric aircraft!
The man in question is Jeff Zaltman, is a successful businessman, running the international aircraft competition, Air Race One, in which planes (powered by traditional engines) do circuits of a 5.13km oval course. It will be the template for Air Race E. Speaking to the media, Zaltman commented that he has:
No plans to halt Air Race One, but the time is right for the aviation industry to start thinking about electric racing. Just as Formula E, the global electric racing car series, has helped promote the potential and acceptance of battery-powered road cars, I believe Air Race E can do a similar job in aviation.
Significance in Aviation Industry
This announcement comes in the middle of a industry-wide panic, as aviation and air travel begins to become the forefront of Climate Emergency reductions and ‘sacrifices’ across the globe; With the prevalence and threat of irreversible climate damage outweighing the demand for commercial air travel. Critics have highlighted that the aviation industry is approximately 20 years behind the automotive industry, who are beginning to look at renewable and ecologically-friendly alternatives to traditional petrol and disel fuels; Compratively, renewable fuels for aviation have only just began experimentation.
The delay is in fact so huge, that European manufacturing giant Airbus, has announced they are willing to put their name to the Air Race E concept, despite the risks associated with motorsport. Chief Executive of Airbus ExO Alpha – a division which explores alternatives to conventional aircraft fuels and design – announced the move:
We are here because we believe in electric technology, and Some of the answers to the future of electric flight will come from programmes like this.
The support of Airbus is said to be a sponsorship deal, details of which are confidential. In return, Airbus gets to meet and develop ideas with engineers and academics it might not normally come across in the industry of aerospace – It is reported that there will also be data-sharing and cross-pollination of information aimed at helping Airbus take future steps to combat carbon-footprint and pollutant fuels of aircraft developed for commercial use.
But isn’t there associated risks?
Testing of electrically-powered aircraft have been taking place since early in 2018, such as the Cessna Grand Caravan, but there are of course associated risks.
Using battery power instead of conventional engines creates a myriad of issues based on the weight, handling, aerodynamics and design of aircraft. It is probable that Airbus sees Air Race E as part of its electric learning curve, and as the racing series and its technology develops so will the input into commercial aircraft. Airbus has already been working on a small hybrid-electric aircraft, E-Fan, scheduled to make its first demonstration flight in 2021. The projects will remain separate, however a spokesperson announced.
So, how will Air Race E work?
Zaltman describes the teams taking part, as “an eclectic mix” of companies, entrepreneurs, engineers and pilots who see the “potential and fun” of air racing. Universities, including the UK’s Nottingham, Hull and Teesside, are involved in helping teams to develop the technology. The first team, Condor, was unveiled on Sunday, with seven further due to be announced later this week – A staggered release hoping to maximise the publicity potential of being at one of the world’s biggest aerospace events. Condor is run by Condor Aviation International, a UK company specialising in building and testing bespoke aircraft and is another company to publicly back the project.
In regards to host cities, the published list is due to be announced early next year, with the first race held later in 2020. However, at the time of interview, Zaltman would not disclose the location list, only that they will be cities – the races will be at airports within these cities – keen to promote their “environmental pedigree”.
So, what’s your thoughts on Air Race E and electric developments within the aviation industry? Let us know!