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PostPosted: Sat Jan 20, 2018 8:52 am 
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Boeing-backed, hybrid-electric commuter plane to hit market in 2022
Alwyn Scott

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Seattle-area startup, backed by the venture capital arms of Boeing Co ( BA.N) and JetBlue Airways Corp ( JBLU.O) announced plans on Thursday to bring a small hybrid-electric commuter aircraft to market by 2022.

The small airliner is the first of several planes planned by Zunum Aero, which said it would seat up to 12 passengers and be powered by two electric motors, dramatically reducing the travel time and cost of trips under 1,000 miles (1,600 km).

Zunum’s plans and timetable underscore a rush to develop small electric aircraft based on rapidly evolving battery technology and artificial intelligence systems that avoid obstacles on a road or in the sky.

In a separate but related development, Boeing said on Thursday it plans to acquire a company that specializes in electric and autonomous flight to help its own efforts to develop such aircraft.

Several companies, including Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] and European planemaker Airbus ( AIR.PA), are working on electric-powered self-flying cars.

Zunum does not expect to be the first to certify an electric-powered aircraft with regulators. Rather, it is aiming to fill a market gap for regional travel by airlines, where private jets and commercial jetliners are too costly for many to use.

Zunum’s planes would fly from thousands of small airports around big cities to cut regional travel times and costs.

“Airlines are very keen to know how to fly a shorter distance and make money on it,” Matt Knapp, co-founder and chief aeronautic engineer of the Kirkland, Washington-based company, said in an interview.

A flight from Silicon Valley to Los Angeles, for instance, would leave from Palo Alto, San Carlos, Hayward or Reid Hillview airports and arrive in Santa Monica, Burbank, Hawthorne or San Gabriel Valley airports. The cost would be about $120 one way, the company said.


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The travel time of over four hours would be cut in half by avoiding the crowds and security lines at big hubs that are required for larger planes. About 96 percent of U.S. air traffic travels through 1 percent of its airports, leaving thousands of small airports virtually untapped, Knapp said.

Electric-vehicle batteries, such as those made by Tesla Inc ( TSLA.O) and Panasonic Corp ( 6752.T), would power Zunum’s motors, although Zunum has no commitment with either company. A supplemental jet-fuel engine and electrical generator would be used to give the plane a range of 700 miles and ensure it stays aloft after the batteries are exhausted, Knapp said

Zunum plans to make a larger plane seating up to 50 passengers at the end of the next decade, and the range of both would increase to about 1,000 miles as battery technology improves, Knapp said.

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The planes eventually would fly solely on battery power, and are being designed to fly with one pilot and to eventually be remotely piloted, he added.

Recent advances in battery technology, lightweight electric motors and carbon composite airframes would cut the cost of flying Zunum’s aircraft to about eight cents per seat-mile, about one-fifth that of a small jet or turboprop plane, Knapp said.

“We’re getting airline pricing down on a small plane and doing it for short distances,” Knapp said. “That kind of aircraft doesn’t currently exist.”

Zunum first announced its plans for hybrid-electric aircraft in April, and revealed that Boeing HorizonX and JetBlue Technology Ventures had invested in its initial round of venture funding. On Thursday it disclosed specifications and a timetable for the vehicle entering service.

Zunum says the plane would cruise at about 340 miles an hour and at altitudes of about 25,000 feet (7,600 meters) - slower and lower than conventional jets.

The motor, which Zunum is designing, will drive a fan similar to the bypass fan on a jet engine, but without a jet’s combustion. Zunum has started talks with plane makers about building the airframe, and it is building non-flying prototypes of the powertrain to test batteries, the electrical system, software and other components, Knapp said.

Current battery technology can only power the plane for about 100 miles so a gas-powered engine would be used to generate electricity to power the motors for additional range.

Reporting by Alwyn Scott; Editing by Tom Brown

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 20, 2018 1:21 pm 
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Their one tonne battery stores as much energy as 80 kg of fuel, at 25% efficiency. That's nice because any time they need more range or payload they can just leave one of the batteries behind and just stick a bit more fuel in. In fact, why don't they double the payload and leave all the batteries behind? (It wouldn't take off is the answer, it needs electric power to take off).

This isn't quite b/s, unlike the various idiotic quadcopter based proposals, but as soon as I see ducted fans I wonder why they are throwing so much efficiency away.

I can't see shorthaul airliner working unless they find some way to streamline the whole car parking/check in/security/ boarding pass/hire car rigmarole. As it is the shortest hop that would be worth flying is 400 km or so. I suppose I shouldn't generalise, certainly the cross channel market would make sense. Pretty small market though.


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 20, 2018 3:52 pm 
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WarshipAdmin wrote:
as soon as I see ducted fans I wonder why they are throwing so much efficiency away.

Because the military isn't the only place to get bitten by the TRANSFORMATIONAL!!! bug.

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 20, 2018 5:45 pm 
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WarshipAdmin wrote:
This isn't quite b/s, unlike the various idiotic quadcopter based proposals, but as soon as I see ducted fans I wonder why they are throwing so much efficiency away.

Frustratingly I actually know the answer to that one (where I work is deeply involved in this, and for instance I've been involved in the response to the Zunum RFI), but I can't actually say anything. Ducted fans make sense for electric motors in a way they don't for a conventional mechanical transmission is probably all I can say.
There are also a number of very serious quadcopter proposals which haven't made the press yet. The technology is just at a tipping point where it is becoming viable - we can make prototypes which are better than a mechanical transmission at the moment, but not yet in volume at an acceptable price. That's going to change, however, and probably very soon.

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 20, 2018 7:12 pm 
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If you need 98.4% efficient electric motors let me know.

Well now you've answered my question sort of. There is a reason. I just don't know it. Hallo google!


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 21, 2018 9:33 am 
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WarshipAdmin wrote:
If you need 98.4% efficient electric motors let me know.

What's the power density? Getting the efficiency that high isn't particularly hard with a PMG, getting the whole thing light enough is rather harder and is where most of the effort is going. We can currently do that for prototypes, but really don't know how to build them in quantity and certify them yet.
The whole area is really fascinating - we're making some really big changes to what went before and I'm churning out almost one patent application a month just by myself from it all...

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 22, 2018 12:55 am 
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Power density isn't a huge deal for solar cars, here's the specs.

http://www.ata.org.au/wp-content/upload ... _motor.pdf

If you'd like someone to work on the magnetic circuit design contact Howard Lovatt at UTS, Marand are a decent bet for the mechanical stuff. Incidentally some of those CAD drawings in that presentation were my initial packaging studies, they are 21 years old!

So far as DF efficiencies go, I have read much now I need to see what the answers are. One big issue is you get an efficiency improvement (at a given operating point) by shaping the internal duct, the one i'd seen wind tunnel tested was parallel.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 22, 2018 2:20 am 
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WarshipAdmin wrote:
Power density isn't a huge deal for solar cars, here's the specs.

http://www.ata.org.au/wp-content/upload ... _motor.pdf

Ouch. We'd need to be <800g to have a hope of being competitive at that efficiency. Most of the techniques look pretty familiar (although industrialisation is a big deal - do you know anybody who can print a Halbach array?), but most if what we do is radial rather than axial flux and has fewer phases - it makes stressing for very high speeds much easier and reduces the frontal area.

WarshipAdmin wrote:
So far as DF efficiencies go, I have read much now I need to see what the answers are. One big issue is you get an efficiency improvement (at a given operating point) by shaping the internal duct, the one i'd seen wind tunnel tested was parallel.

Oddly enough, the reason we do it is absolutely nothing to do with efficiency. It also doesn't apply to all fans.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 22, 2018 4:48 am 
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The whole battery / electric powertrain field is moving pretty fast now, looking at the automotive sector, energy density has almost doubled in the last six years, while battery prices, which have been dropping for a while now, took a step dive around 2015, and continue to get cheaper.

For example, the motorbike I bought in 2012, with its 9kW battery and 25hp / 40ft/lbs torque compares badly to the same bike six years later, which has an 18kW battery and 70hp / 116ft/lbs torque all in the same space, and at a similar price.

It's hardly a surprise that these improvements in technology are starting to be applicable to the aerospace industries as well.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 22, 2018 8:49 pm 
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My bloody head.

I went into this thread wondering how the hell a hydro-electric plane would work.....

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 23, 2018 1:58 am 
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Beastro wrote:
My bloody head.

I went into this thread wondering how the hell a hydro-electric plane would work.....

Water wheels on the wings to power it in rain? A really long extension cord?

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 23, 2018 2:30 am 
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