US-based Wright Electric is to install its 2MW electric propulsion on the BAe 146 regional aircraft and plans to fly the aircraft in fully-electric mode within the next three years.
The Wright Spirit will incorporate Wright’s megawatt-class electric propulsion system and will be capable of transporting up to 100-passengers for one-hour flights. Wright Electric plans to convert existing BAe 146 aircraft – a 100 passenger, 4-engine aircraft originally made by British Aerospace in 1983, with its all-electric propulsion system.
The BAe 146 is the same aircraft that Airbus and Rolls-Royce were modifying for their E-Fan X development program, which was cancelled in April last year. That project aimed to install and fly a 2.5MW hybrid-electric propulsion system on a BAe 146.
Jeff Engler, CEO of Wright Electric said, “Aviation has committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, but we are committed to a 100% reduction in all emissions starting in 2026. Because we have built the world’s largest aerospace propulsive powertrain, we can build the world’s largest zero-emissions retrofit directly serving the world’s busiest routes.”
Engineers at Wright have been focussed on developing a megawatt-scale electric propulsion system for aircraft since early 2020, when the company moved into new premises in Albany, New York. Wright has been proving key components of the system including a high-efficiency, high-power density inverter and a 2MW, 2,700hp motor.
The propulsion system is currently undergoing ground testing. The company plans to start flight testing it in 2023 with one all-electric propulsor. Wright then plans to fly a BAe 146 with two all-electric propulsors by 2024 leading to full-electric flights by 2026.
According to Wright, the modified BAe 146 / Wright Spirit’s 460 miles (740km) range will make is possible to serve the world’s busiest city pairs, such as Seoul-Jeju, London-Paris, Rio de Janeiro-São Paulo, and San Francisco-Los Angeles.
“We can make a significant impact on global emissions by targeting this high-demand segment of the market,” said Engler.
Wright Electric was founded in 2016 and is also developing the Wright 1 narrowbody aircraft to have 186 seats and a range of 800 miles. The company has previously said it is targeting a 2030 entry into service for this aircraft
The company is partnering with aviation companies such as European airline Easyjet and business aviation services provider Jetex for the development of its electric aircraft.
David Morgan, director of flight operations at EasyJet said, “We believe zero emissions aircraft are key to addressing aviation’s environmental impact and so we fully support Wright Electric in their ambition to bring a zero-emissions aircraft to market. Wright have come a long way since we first started working with them in 2017 and we welcome this announcement as another important step on their journey.”
The company also won a US$650,000 grant from the US Department of Energy’s Electric Aircraft Program to help develop a propulsion system last October.