The Airbus E-FAN electric plane made its first flight last month, and though it didn’t go far, it’s a big step towards emissions-free flying. Even better, Airbus eventually wants to produce and market a line of electric and hybrid aircraft under the VoltAir brand, meaning a future of electric flying could be closer than we think.
This first manned flight is a follow-up to last year’s demonstrator test, and the E-FAN first flew on March 11th thanks to lithium-polymer batteries that provide between 45 minutes and an hour of flight time, along with a top speed of 220 KPH, or about 136 MPH. Airbus imagines the E-FAN being used for training missions or stunt flying, where range isn’t as much of a concern. Future battery packs could provide additional range for planned production models.
One of the big draws of electric flight is cost, and Airbus claims a typical flight will only cost about $16, whereas a comparable gas-powered plane would suck down $55 worth of fuel. The E-FAN uses a complex energy management system to conserve power, and clever tricks like a wheel-mounted aft motor to provide movement while taxiing saves the juice for flying. Recharging is said to take only an hour as well, so you don’t have to stay grounded for long.
Though this isn’t the first electric airplane to take to the air, it could be the first one to enter mass production. Airbus is planning two models; the pure-electric E-FAN2.0 with room for two people, and the E-FAN 4.0, which can seat four people and uses a hybrid drivetrain rather than just electricity. These planes could lower the cost of entry to aviation, at least as far as fuel is concerned, and one day small electric or hybrid Airbus aircraft could become the standard commuter plane for frequent flyers.
One advantage of electric aircraft even the most ardent defender of the status quo will have to concede is that electrified aircraft will be many times quieter than their combustion-powered cousins, and airports could become a whole lot quieter in the not-too-distant future.