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PHOTO CAPTION: JAXA experimental motorglider with batteries stowed in underwing-mounted pods.

Japan Prepares to Finally Join Electric Flight Ranks

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency or JAXA is preparing to make the first manned test flights of an all-electric, battery-powered airplane starting in February.

Published: 06-Jan-2015

The scenario has been repeated before, starting initially in Europe a decade go. Take a long-winged, high-lift motorized glider and exchange the avgas engine for an electric motor. Next remove the now superfluous fuel tanks and carefully install as many lithium-ion batteries as engineeringly feasible.

It's a well-proven first step on the path towards developing the technology of the future that is seen someday, maybe decades from now, eventually powering aircraft large and small.

In a nation with no oil reserves, where every drop of petroleum has to be imported, an electric airplane would clearly be of value. In the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's case that first step comes in the form of a Super Dimona HK36. The two-seat motor glider has a wing-span of nearly 18 meters and a normal cruising speed of 182 km/h (113 mph). The 100hp Rotax engine has been replaced with an 60kW (82hp) electric propulsion system that JAXA began working on more than a decade ago. Because the electric motor is unaffected by thinning air at altitude, its effective horsepower rating is said to be comparable to the gas engine its replaces.

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