Record-setting electric plane tows glider up into the sky in seconds

Posted: April 6, 2017 by oldbrew in innovation, Travel

Experimental E-plane [image credit: Siemens]

In the longer term they’re hoping this e-plane research will lead to ‘hybrid-electric airliners’.

Siemens has just announced that an electric aerobatic plane powered by its latest motor has nabbed two world speed records, as New Atlas reports.

The Extra 330LE aircraft is now the fastest e-plane under 1,000 kg, and also – after a few mods – the quickest above 1,000 kg, too. The electric test plane also became the first in the world to tow a glider up into the skies.

The Extra 330LE aerobatic plane powered by the lightweight electric motor announced by Siemens in 2015 made its first flight in July 2016.

The motor tips the scales at 50 kg (110 lb) but is reported capable of delivering a continuous output of 260 kW, five time more than comparable propulsion systems.

Before the end of last year, the flying test bed had opened a new page in the record books by setting a new world climb record, winging its way up to 3,000 meters (9.840 ft) in 4 minutes and 22 seconds – a climb velocity of 11.5 meters per second.

On March 23, at the Dinslaken Schwarze Heide airfield in Germany, the Extra 330LE managed to top out at 337.5 km/h (209.7 mph) during its 3 km (1.8 mi) straight line flight, 13.48 km/h faster than the previous record set in 2013. The new record has been officially recognized by the World Air Sports Federation (in the category “Electric airplanes with a take-off weight less than 1,000 kg”).

The e-plane also clocked a new world record in the “above 1,000 kg” category with a modified configuration, achieving a top speed of 342.86 km/h (213 mph).

But two world speed records clearly weren’t enough. The day after setting the speed record, the Extra 330LE took to the skies again – this time towing a type LS8-neo glider, the first time an electric aircraft has been used for such a task. The electric flyer managed to take the glider up to 600 meters (1,968 ft) in just 76 seconds.

There are no current plans to take the test aircraft into series production, but the project collaboration with Airbus that began last April intends to develop hybrid-electric airliners based on scaled up versions of the Siemens electric motor.

Source: Record-setting electric plane tows glider up into the sky in seconds | New Atlas

  1. AlecM says:

    ‘There are no current plans to take the test aircraft into series production…’

    Good puns……….

  2. Ian says:

    Wouldn’t it be more realistic, in terms of power-to-weight ratio, to combine motor and battery pack, then compare that to petrol engine and fuel tank equivalent to battery range? I only skim-read the article, but didn’t spot anything on range. When does the Law of Diminishing Returns start to take effect (thinking of the suggested airliner application)?

  3. Harry Passfield says:

    Just checked. 260kW is equivalent to just short of 350hp. Not shabby.

  4. oldbrew says:

    Re range – they’re looking at ‘regional’ flights for hybrid aircraft. The battery is a range extender and also allows the use of smaller, lighter turbines since max power is only needed at take-off.
    – –
    “With a kerosene-electric hybrid drive system, the turbine would run continuously at optimum power and provide energy, via a generator, for the electric motor powering the propeller,” Anton explains. “During takeoff, extra energy would be provided by a battery.”

  5. Bitter&twisted says:

    They were doing these “record speeds” in the 1920s.
    Colour me unimpressed.

  6. Curious George says:

    Let’s congratulate Siemens for what looks like a nicely designed motor, and a great Public Relations team. This is a second record-breaking electric plane, after one that flew around the world in less than two years. Is there an official category of wind-powered cars?

  7. RoswellJohn says:

    They’re already working on 50 passenger hybrid planes;

    What if you could get to places much faster than you can today? What if flying cost a lot less than it does today? If thousands of communities were connected by air service? What if aircraft were quieter, with far lower emissions?

    We’re making it so.

  8. oldbrew says:

    ‘Needless to say, other companies have now picked up on this topic as well, but Anton estimates that Siemens is at least three years ahead of the game.’

  9. Curious George says:

    Batteries are today barely adequate for an electric car. An electric aircraft is a fantasy; we need a breakthrough in batteries or fuel cells.

  10. oldbrew says:

    George: yes, but the long-term aim here isn’t for an electric aircraft, it’s for a hybrid. They’re targetting 12% fuel savings and longer engine life (not least because it runs at a constant rate to power a generator).
    – – –
    “This aerotow provides further highly visible evidence of our record-setting motor’s performance capabilities,” said Frank Anton, head of eAircraft at the Siemens venture capital unit next47. “Just six such propulsion units would be sufficient to power a typical 19-seat hybrid-electric airplane.”

  11. I agree with both C George and oldbrew. Until battery cost, capacity and charging time improve they will not prove economical. The motor research is encouraging though.
    Most high tech batteries charge much too slowly forcing users to buy spare batteries Burning batteries are not acceptable so we must see better cooling or higher charging efficiencies before electric competes in transportation.
    Another small step on a long journey. With political change we may have time for enough progress.

  12. Dave Ward says:

    How many times in a day could this aircraft tow a glider to release altitude (including the necessary recharging time)? I don’t think the typical gliding club Supercubs and Pawnees are in danger of becoming obsolescent just yet…

  13. oldbrew says:

    Dave W – maybe it can recharge on its descent 😉
    – – –
    The Airbus e-plane is supposed to recharge in 1 hour, which allows 1 hour in the air they say.

  14. Dave Ward says:

    “Maybe it can recharge on its descent”

    If the pilot were to stand it on its nose Turbo Porter style, maybe! I’ll grant you that the common problem of “shock cooling” won’t apply as it does with typical air-cooled piston engines, but how do they expect to keep the battery packs adequately cooled – it’s no good having a motor capable of “a continuous output of 260 kW” if the power supply can’t keep up. Once heat has built up in the middle of a large battery pack, it’s going to take some time to dissipate. As with electric cars, there is simply no way it could be available for tugging for as many hours in a day as a conventional piston or turbine powered aircraft. And bearing in mind that many flying clubs are located “out in the sticks” it’s debatable how many would have an adequate electricity supply. Some don’t have ANY supplies – they might just use an old caravan for a club house, and fly their own tug over to a nearby airfield to refuel. This can often be done as part of a glider launch, so doesn’t have to greatly affect the tugs availability. You simply can’t just turn up with an electric aircraft and go flying in the way that you can with conventional craft.

  15. oldmanK says:

    Quote from oldbrew above: ” (not least because it runs at a constant rate to power a generator)”

    Not possible when the generator is supplying a varying load.

  16. oldbrew says:

    Sorry, ‘constant’ should read ‘optimum’ 😦

    See – oldbrew says: April 6, 2017 at 8:46 pm

  17. oldbrew says:

    DARPA Hybrid Electric VTOL X-Plane could be twice as fast as helicopters and twice as efficient
    brian wang | April 10, 2017

    ‘…the revolutionary aircraft includes 24 electric ducted fans—18 distributed within the main wings and six in the canard surfaces, with the wings and canards tilting upwards for vertical flight and rotating to a horizontal position for wing-borne flight. The successful tests suggest there is a time in the not-so-distant future when VTOL aircraft could fly much faster and farther than any existing hover-capable craft, and take off and land almost anywhere.’

    A bit more tech info:

  18. Gamecock says:

    They were doing these “record speeds” in the 1920s.
    Colour me unimpressed.


    Amen. Siemens’ only accomplishment here is a PR release. Relevance is not required for PR releases.

    What is often hidden in releases like this is that the super tech is NOT in the power plant, it’s in the vehicle, to get it to perform well with a crappy power plant. Press release touts the power plant, when that’s not the real story. But the desired story of those with the checkbook.

  19. oldbrew says:

    German startup Lilium Aviation says its prototype electric VTOL jet works and it is now working to build a five-seater air taxi

    Unmanned test flight video