Hybridisation and electrification projects are taking aviation to the next stage of sustainability as well as the study of aerodynamic efficiency
Surf Air Mobility (SAM), a company working to accelerate the adoption of green aviation, has entered into contracts with electric aviation propulsion specialist magniX, and AeroTEC, an aircraft development company, to develop and certify hybrid and fully-electric powertrains for new and existing Cessna Grand Caravan aircraft. These hybrid and fully-electric aircraft will be designed to reduce operating costs and emissions and greatly improve the affordability of regional air mobility.
This is in line with Los Angeles-based Surf Air Mobility, mission as an electric aviation and air travel company to reinvent flying through the power of electrification. The company intends to bring electrified aircraft to market at scale in order to substantially reduce the cost and environmental impact of flying.
SAM is planning to further develop and certify a proprietary electrification systems powered by magniX’s electric propulsion units (EPU). Based in Everett in the USA, magniX defines itself as having the technology to enable an era of clean and affordable commercial air travel with all-electric propulsion. Its range of products for air mobility includes a number of all-electric motors, which produce zero emissions and are able to substantially increase efficiency for various aviation applications.
AeroTEC will provide engineering, testing, programme management and certification expertise to support the design, development and FAA Certification of the drive train. With stringent accreditation and certification requirements in the aerospace industry worldwide, AeroTEC provides the all important services of developing, testing and certifying new aircraft products, using innovative and scalable development, test and certification techniques to help aerospace companies bring their products to market quickly, easily and efficiently.
So far, magniX and AeroTEC have already successfully flown a fully-electric Cessna Grand Caravan 208B, demonstrating the technology and proving the feasibility of the future of electrified air travel.
According to Sudhin Shahani, Co-founder and CEO of Surf Air Mobility, AeroTEC’s capabilities, deep experience in design, engineering and programme management of certification of these units are well known. Also, magniX is fully capable of the development of aircraft electric propulsion systems and innovation.
“AeroTEC and magniX are perfect partners for SAM to accelerate electrification of the Cessna Grand Caravan aircraft and to lead the new era of green flying,” he says.
SAM intends to first develop and commercialise hybrid electric aircraft to accelerate entry into the market for operators and consumers of sustainable air travel without the need for any of the charging infrastructure associated with fully electric equipment. The hybrid electric Cessna Grand Caravans will, in due course, be operated as part of SAM’s consumer fleet of aircraft and intends to make these available to third-party operators as required.
The company then further intends to upgrade existing internal combustion turboprop aircraft already in service by installing its proprietary hybrid electric powertrains in its existing fleet of Caravan aircraft, thereby reducing direct operating costs and emissions.
As part of its fleet expansion plans, SAM is also now planning to merge with Southern Airways, which is one of the largest passenger operators of Cessna Caravans in the USA. As part of the SAM family, Southern Airways is expected to lead the introduction of SAM’s electrified powertrains to the market.
SAM’s first-generation hybrid electric Cessna Grand Caravans are being designed to target carbon emissions reductions of up to 50% and direct operating cost reductions of up to 25%. The Company anticipates its initial hybrid electric Cessna Grand Caravans, once developed, will have the same flight range as their turbine combustion engine counterpart, allowing the hybrid electric version of the popular light aircraft to operate on regional routes across the USA. The hybrid electric Cessna Grand Caravans will not require charging infrastructure on the ground.
“Working with Surf Air Mobility will accelerate our shared vision of electrifying air travel and realise the benefits of an electrified Cessna Grand Caravan within the next few years,” says Dominique Spragg, Chairman of magniX.
SAM’s plan to install the hybrid electric magniX engine is expected to create a path for magniX’s existing pipeline of approximately 50 Grand Caravan aircraft.
According to Lee Human, President & CEO of AeroTEC, the company’s experience of bringing new aviation technologies to market, which has been gained over some decades, will help to accelerate the commercialisation of SAM’s hybrid electric Cessna Grand Caravan and set the stage for the development of additional aircraft types.
“We’re at the beginning of aviation’s next major evolution and we’re excited to help lead the industry forward with Surf Air Mobility,” he says.
With commercially available hybrid electric aircraft only a few years away, followed by fully-electric aircraft, the group of companies believes that SAM, magniX, and AeroTEC form the team to bring affordable, sustainable air travel to market as quickly as possible.
However, it isn’t just the development of new hybrid and electric power trains that is increasing the efficiency of aircraft and making the industry more sustainable. Another approach is to use the power of aerodynamics to reduce the emissions of modern aircraft, particularly in the fledgling urban air mobility industry.
Whilst the technology to achieve this has been around for some time, the industry is nonetheless now focusing more on sustainability and therefore producing the most energy efficient aircraft possible considering both powertrain and aerodynamic efficiency for drag reduction.
To understand the impact of changes in aerodynamic profiles, extensive testing is needed and Evolution Measurement has produced the miniature EvoScann pressure scanners, which the company believes are a perfect fit for this type of aircraft testing. Small and compact, they can be built to fit into a wing section or placed around the body of the aircraft to achieve measurements from previously unreachable areas.
Digital data is then transmitted in direct engineering units, so aerodynamicists can see where improvements can be achieved.
On-vehicle pressure scanning itself is nothing new and has been used extensively in a wide range of industries and is particularly popular in motorsports as it verifies the calculations made in CFD (computatioinal flow dynamics) simulation and wind tunnel testing. Experience and data has shown that these simulations and test measurements have transferred well to real world experiences.
Combining the pressure scanners with flow probes, provides greater data which gives detailed insight into how the air flow reacts with aircraft on take-off or landing, when the power consumption is at a maximum.
Evolution measurement is deploying its pressure sensing expertise and miniature sensors within the urban air mobility industry to help squeeze the maximum efficiency from light aircraft and drones.