Airbus’ EcoPulse hybrid-electric distributed propulsion aircraft demonstrator has successfully performed its first flight test in hybrid-electric mode. The aircraft flew with its ePropellers activated, powered by high-density batteries and a turbogenerator.
The flight took off from Tarbes Airport on November 29 at 10:32 am CET and lasted for about 100 minutes. EcoPulse’s first hybrid flight is the culmination of several technical milestones, including extensive ground tests and 10 hours of aircraft flight tests using its main propeller powered by an internal combustion engine. During the recent test, the main propeller was shut down, and propulsion was provided by the six electric-powered ePropellers.
The crew tested the performance of the demonstrator’s key components, such as the flight control computer, the high-voltage battery pack, the distributed electric propulsion, and the hybrid electric turbogenerator.
Unveiled at the 2019 Paris Air Show, EcoPulse is jointly developed by Daher, Safran, and Airbus to support aviation’s decarbonization roadmap. The airframe is a modified Daher TBM 900 turboprop aircraft with six electric thrusters, or e-Propellers, supplied by Safran, which are distributed along the wings. The plane’s propulsion system integrates two power sources: a gas turbine-driven electric generator and a high-energy density battery pack.
The Power Distribution and Rectifier Unit (PDRU) is responsible for protecting the high-voltage network and distributing the available electrical power, while high-voltage power harnesses are incorporated into this architecture. The battery pack, which is rated at 800 Volts DC, can deliver up to 350 kilowatts of power.
Airbus has also developed the Flight Control Computer, which allows aircraft maneuvers using the ePropellers, and synchrophasing to support future aircraft acoustic recommendations. Additionally, the demonstrator benefits from the aerodynamic and acoustic integration expertise of the European aircraft manufacturer.
The demonstrator aims to evaluate the operational benefits of integrating hybrid-electric distributed propulsion, with a focus on reducing CO2 emissions and noise levels. This new propulsion architecture allows a single electrical source to power multiple engines distributed throughout the aircraft.
“This is a major milestone for our industry, and we’re proud to have powered the EcoPulse demonstrator’s first flight with our new battery systems,” said Sabine Klauke, Chief Technical Officer at Airbus. “High-energy density batteries will be necessary to reduce carbon emissions from aviation, whether for light aircraft, advanced air mobility, or large hybrid-electric aircraft. Projects like EcoPulse are key to accelerating progress in electric and hybrid electric flight and a cornerstone of our aim to decarbonize the aerospace industry as a whole.”