PHOTO CAPTION: Sunseeker II is powered entirely by solar energy, and last year was the first electric airplane to cross the Alps.

Electric Airplanes Could Transform How We Fly

Still needing resolution is higher energy density batteries, but high efficiency of electric motors compensates some compared to conventional gasoline engines.

Published: 07-Feb-2010

As the promise of electric cars grows, so too does the potential of electric planes. These aircraft, whose motors are far more efficient, reliable and quiet than internal combustion engines, could help transform how we fly — if a few problems could be solved.

Electric motors are three to four times better than internal combustion engines at driving an airplane propeller. And the reliability of electric motors is "perhaps 10 times or even 20 times that of a piston engine," said Brien Seeley, president of the Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency (CAFE) Foundation, an independent flight test agency which hosts NASA's Centennial Challenges for Aeronautics.

See also EV World interview with Dr. Seeley in 2008: Towards the 100 MPG Airplane

Because electric motors could be up to 95 percent efficient compared to the 18 to 23 percent efficiency of regular engines – means they waste much less energy in the form of heat. As such, "they don't need anywhere near the same amount of cooling air flowing over them that internal combustion engines do, which is a very big deal with airplanes" and accounts for a significant part of the drag they experience that can slow them down, Seeley said.


TREV two-place electric car

Student-built vehicle can do 0-60 in 10 seconds with top speed of 75 mph. Photo courtesy of University of South Australia.

La Jamais Contente was first vehicle to go 100 km/hr. It was electric. Photo credit:

How the old models can speed a greener future.

Smith Edison electric delivery van will be basis of Ford Transit Connect.

Electric Transit Connect will be developed in conjunction with UK's Smith Electric.


blog comments powered by Disqus