Zunum confirms flight testing schedule for hybrid-electric aircraft


Zunum Aero has confirmed that flight testing for its first hybrid-electric regional aircraft, the ZA10, is on schedule to begin next year.

The ZA10 is a 12-seat, hybrid-electric 700-mile (1100km) commercial aircraft powered by two low-pressure ducted fans – each driven by a 500kW motor – which Zunum calls its ‘quiet electric propulsors’ (QEPs).

The QEPs draw power from lithium-ion batteries in the wings and a 500kW generator in a series hybrid-electric arrangement to give extra range while cruising.

Zunum Aero began ground tests of this hybrid-electric power system in Chicago, Illinois, earlier this year. The power system is being upgraded and tested in stages in advance of its first test flight, which is planned for early 2019.

Meanwhile, it was confirmed last week that the ZA10 will use the latest Ardiden engine from Safran Helicopter Engines to drive the 500kW generator. Ground testing of the Ardiden 3Z is also underway, with integration into the flying testbed planned for next year.

Zunum is modifying a Rockwell Turbo Commander 840 turboprop, a light aircraft first made in 1979, to use as its flying testbed, because it has similar weight and performance to the ZA10. Modifications to the test aircraft began on schedule earlier this year and will lead to full hybrid-to-electric conversion with the Safran engine.

The flying testbed will continue to be upgraded with successive prototypes until the start of the certification program in 2020-21, Zunum said.

According to this blog by Matt Knapp, founder and aero chief engineer of Zunum Aero, and Waleed Said, Zunum’s chief technology officer of power, the company has established “precise” testing milestones for the development of the ZA10, including testing of its electrical systems on a copper bird and wind tunnel testing of the QEPs to evaluate performance and aerodynamics.

The company said that the selection of the Ardiden gas turbine engine was a critical step in the development of the ZA10.

Knapp said, “Today marks a significant milestone on the path to delivery of the ZA10. The ZA10 aircraft will bring breakthrough performance to regional aviation, paving the way to fast, electrified, affordable high-speed air services to communities everywhere.”

Florent Chauvancy, Safran Helicopter Engines, EVP – OEM sales, said, “This announcement marks a new step forward in demonstrating our ability to offer hybrid propulsive solutions for tomorrow’s mobility solutions.”

The ZA10 is the first in Zunum’s family of regional, hybrid-electric aircraft. The company claims the aircraft will cost up to 80% less to operate than conventional aircraft of a comparable size.

Founded in 2013, Zunum Aero is backed by Boeing HorizonX, JetBlue Technology Ventures and the State of Washington Clean Energy Fund.

Interested in hybrid-electric aircraft? Our Electric & Hybrid Aerospace Technology Symposium, is the world’s leading international conference dedicated to ultra-low-emission aircraft technology and full-electric flight. The Symposium takes place on November 8-9 in Cologne, Germany. To register, go here.

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Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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