Siemens develops composites-intensive hybrid electric airplane

Siemens, Diamond Aircraft and EADS introduced at the Paris Air Show the DA36 E-Star motor glider, what is said to be the world's first aircraft with a serial hybrid electric drive system.

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Siemens AG, Diamond Aircraft (London, Ontario, Canada) and EADS introduced at the Paris Air Show the DA36 E-Star motor glider, what is said to be the world's first aircraft with a serial hybrid electric drive system. The aircraft was built by the three partners to test the hybrid electric drive concept. In the future, the technology, which is intended for later use also in large-scale aircraft, is expected to cut fuel consumption and emissions by 25 percent, compared to today's most efficient aircraft drives.

Diamond Aircraft, which makes the plane, reports that the entire aircraft structure is manufactured of composites — almost entirely glass fiber.

"A serial hybrid electric drive can be scaled for a wide range of uses, making it highly suitable for aircraft as well," said Dr. Frank Anton, the initiator of electric aircraft development at Siemens. "The first thing we want to do is test the technology in small aircraft. In the long term, however, the drive system will also be used in large-scale aircraft. We want to cut fuel consumption and emissions by 25 percent, compared to today's most efficient technologies. This will make air travel more sustainable."

The motor glider, which is based on Diamond Aircraft's HK36 Super Dimona, is the first to use a so-called serial hybrid electric drive, which has been used to date only in cars, as an integrated drive train. The plane's propeller is powered by a 70-kW electric motor from Siemens. Electricity is supplied by a small Wankel engine from Austro Engine with a generator that functions solely as a power source. A Siemens converter supplies the electric motor with power from the battery and the generator.

Fuel consumption is very low since the combustion engine always runs with a constant low output of 30 kW. A battery system from EADS provides the increased power required during takeoff and climb. The accumulator is recharged during the cruising phase. "The serial hybrid electric drive concept makes possible a quiet electric takeoff and a considerable reduction in fuel consumption and emission," said Christian Dries, the owner of Diamond Aircraft. "It also enables aircraft to cover the required long distances."

The electric motor glider successfully completed its first flight at the Wiener Neustadt airfield in Vienna, Austria on June 8, 2011. "On the long way to hybrid electric-powered commercial aircraft, the maiden flight of the DA36 E-Star is a small step and at the same time a historic milestone," said Dr. Jean Botti, CTO and member of the executive committee of EADS.

The next development step will be to further optimize the entire drive train. Siemens scientists are currently working on a new electric motor that is expected to be five times lighter than conventional drives. In two years, another aircraft is expected to be equipped with an ultra-light electric drive.

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