Electrified racing aeroplane undergoes tests

Researchers have tested an electrified racing aeroplane that could potentially push the limits of electric propulsion to increase energy efficiency and cut emissions in the aviation industry.

electrified racing aeroplane
A Cassutt III petrol-powered single-seater racing aircraft is being converted to run on electrical power (© University of Nottingham)

The research project at Nottingham University has been funded by the Propulsion Futures Beacon of Excellence, directed by Professor David Grant in collaboration with Air Race E, an electric air race series, to investigate alternatives to the use of fossil fuels in global transportation systems.

In a statement, project lead Professor Michael Galea said: “Electric flight is one of the fastest developing technological areas and is seen as the third-generation of aviation. The rigours of air motorsport, with its demand for speed, performance and power management, has provided us with the perfect conditions to develop and promote cleaner, faster and more technologically advanced electric motor drives.”

Air Race E: electric air racing looking to take flight

The Cassutt III petrol-powered single-seater racing aircraft provided by Air Race E has been converted to run on electrical power. The airframe has been adapted to fit the integrated electric motor and other supporting power electronic systems such as cooling systems, pilot interface and controls. Additional supporting structures have also been developed to house the batteries, which provide the motor with enough energy for racing.

Professor Galea said: “Our drive has been fully lab tested to its rated speed and power, and a custom-control system has been developed to start the motor and control the speed from within the cockpit. A significant amount of time has been spent on getting the motor operating and communicating with the motor management system, a process which involved understanding, programming, connecting, and tuning all control systems.

“Our main design challenge has been to retrofit the electrical systems into the plane in place of the existing aircraft engine. The batteries take up a large volume in the nose of the plane and there is limited space to fit the battery housing, control circuitry and main power cables within. This must be achieved whilst maintaining a similar weight distribution and centre of gravity to the original plane.

Jeff Zaltman, CEO of Air Race E, said: “We are all incredibly excited about this project and to see the successful ground tests completed was a big milestone in our push to develop alternative transportation systems. I would like to congratulate everybody involved, and I can’t wait to see what else we can achieve together.”

The electrified racing aeroplane has been tested in-situ at the facilities of an East Midlands aerospace engineering partner and it will be used as a static demonstrator at aerospace events, with the potential to be flight tested in the future.