US Researchers have flown an electric motor drive on a hybrid-electric aircraft for the ARPA-e project for the first time.
The flight from Camarillo airport near Los Angeles, California on February 20 used a Cessna 337 modified by electric aircraft company Ampaire after 18 months of ground testing,
The Cessna featured a 250-kilowatt motor drive powering a rear electrical engine in the hybrid electric aircraft testbed. Working in combination with a gasoline-powered engine in the front of the aircraft, the rear electrical engine propelled the aircraft during taxiing, takeoff, cruising and landing.
The project was funded by the US Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-e) and is the first piece of new technology the program that has been flight tested.
Isik Kizilyalli, ARPA-e associate director for technology said, “Testing transformative electric aviation technologies on an aero-platform in actual flight environments enables validation of the technology in real world conditions, which will greatly accelerate the adoption of the technology.
“The University of Arkansas motor drive is the first of many ARPA-e funded electric aviation technologies, such as circuit breakers, inverters, motors, power distribution systems, batteries, fuel cells and even high-efficiency combustion engines that will be tested in flight as the agency tackles the electrification of aircraft to bring us towards a more electrified future.”
Engineers from the University of Arkansas led by professor of electrical engineering and executive director of the National Center for Reliable Electric Power Transmission (NCREPT) Alan Mantooth, worked on the electrical and mechanical aspects of the inverter technology and the controls for the project. The University of Illinois led a research team focused on thermal-management design.
Mantooth said, “With recent refinements, we’ve managed to optimize design of the electrical-thermal-mechanical-control systems — in other words, all aspects of the motor drive are now simultaneously optimized.
“This has major implications for the new and emerging era of electrification of transportation vehicles, whether they be planes, trains, automobiles, heavy equipment, ships or drones. We’re extremely excited about this work.”
As well as aircraft integration, Ampaire assisted with environmental testing requirements, derived from aerospace hardware standards and necessary to qualify and validate the motor drive’s performance and reliability on a pathway to test flight.
Silicon-carbide semiconductor maker Wolfspeed contributed commercial power modules and integration expertise for the electronic motor drive.
Ampaire is to conduct additional test flights to collect data for improving future designs.
Ed Lovelace, chief technology officer and vice president of engineering at Ampaire said, “The flying testbed capability gives Ampaire a rapid test tool for evaluation of emerging technology in a relevant environment.
“Successfully evaluated technologies have an opportunity to become part of Ampaire’s commercial electrified aviation product roadmap, providing greater capabilities.”