New Propulsion Design Challenges Current Efficiencies of Light Airplanes

 

At 4:30 p.m., Sept. 7, a team of students from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University demonstrated a first in aviation history. At that moment, in the skies over Daytona Beach, Fla., test pilot Mikhael Ponso transitioned the Eco Eagle, a hybrid propulsion aircraft they designed, from gas power to full-electric power.

Ponso reported that when he switched the Eco Eagle from gas power to electric power, the airplane's efficiency increased and its noise fell to all but silent, with the only sound a low whir of pulleys and propeller.

"This aircraft challenges the current efficiencies of light airplanes," said Pat Anderson, professor of aerospace engineering at Embry-Riddle and the team's faculty advisor. "With this technology-breaking propulsion system, Embry-Riddle's student designers are demonstrating that airplanes can be green, too."

In their technology demonstrator, the Embry-Riddle students incorporated an efficient gas motor with an electric propulsion system powered by batteries. This allows the airplane to climb on the more powerful 100-horsepower gas motor. When it reaches a cruising altitude, the airplane transitions seamlessly to a full-electric mode with 40 horsepower for the rest of the flight.

While all-electric airplanes may be the future of aviation, today's technology is still too heavy for most airplanes. The Embry-Riddle students believe their hybrid propulsion system yields the best combination of speed, climb rate, range, and endurance for currently available technology.

Over the past year and a half, around 200 students from different academic disciplines completely designed, manufactured, and tested the airplane's propulsion system. They were supervised by faculty and staff and led by Lori Costello, a graduate student in aerospace engineering.

"A hard-core group of 40 students came in after classes and jobs and worked many long hours," Costello said.

"It is unusual for university students in the United States to design, manufacture, and test a manned aircraft technology demonstrator," Anderson said. "Not only have these students designed and flown a completely new propulsion system, they are contributing to the greening of aviation. It will challenge the status quo for aircraft performance."

The Embry-Riddle team has set its sights on demonstrating the aircraft at NASA's Green Flight Challenge, Sept. 25-Oct. 3, and at other aircraft performance expos.

Funding for the project came from generous contributions by the Aviation Education Foundation and its founder James Ray; Randy Fiorenza, an Embry-Riddle alumnus; David Robertson, an Embry-Riddle trustee; Rotax Aircraft Engines; Flight Designs; MT-Propeller; Drivetek ag, Lockwood Aviation; Stemme Aircraft; and Moonshine Aviation.

Download Center

  • Your Guide to Environmental Metrics that Drive Performance

    Translating sustainability into action starts with implementing the right metrics to assess your environmental risk and performance. Learn how to design metrics that improve your decision-making process and drive enterprise performance.

  • Unpacking ESG: 6 Questions You Were Too Afraid to Ask

    Environmental and Sustainability experts from Arcadis and Cority answer 6 of the most pressing questions EHS professionals have about getting started with Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) reporting.

  • 5 Keys to Best-in-Class Chemical Management

    Running a safe chemical program is challenging and complex: from knowing what's on-site to proper handling and disposal - all while navigating regulatory changes. Learn the best ways to mitigate chemical risk, get the most value out of your data, and gain buy-in for a chemical management solution.

  • Streamline Your Air Emissions Management

    See how consolidating all your emissions management functions into one centralized system can help you streamline your operations, more easily maintain compliance, and achieve greater time and cost savings.

  • A Crash Course in Creating the Right Environmental Scoring System

    Learn how to develop the right environmental scoring system so you can easily benchmark performance across all your facilities and gain a holistic view of your environmental programs.

  • Industry Safe