Earlier this month, there was a test flight of two electric planes along the English Channel. Supposedly, the green technology should one day result in quieter, cheaper flights that don’t make as much of an environmental impact. All of that might be true–but then again some of it might not.
According to chief engineer of NASA’s Scalable Convergent Electronic Propulsion Technology Operations Research (SCEPTOR) project, Matt Redifer, these electric planes run using multiple motors placed along each wing, and provide more efficient lift and propulsion than we’re used to seeing.
We can make the wing smaller and more aerodynamically efficient…We then use motors across the leading edge as a lift device and you get a much larger benefit from electrifying the aircraft.
Redifer’s current goal is the transformation of a Tecnam P2006T using an Italian-made twin-engine. Electric planes might one day result in more environmentally friendly aircraft, a reality which might be made mandatory if the push for reduced carbon emissions continues.
All right, so electric planes are environmentally friendly…Why won’t they be cheaper?
What people are actually willing to pay for makes all the difference. Believe it or not, most commercial aircraft don’t fly at top speeds. In fact, they used to go faster! That’s because flying faster means burning more fuel, and burning more fuel means a higher ticket cost. Sure, we hear about aircraft that can fly faster all the time–but that doesn’t make those aircraft commercially viable.
In the case of electric planes, it’s important to note that cheaper fuel doesn’t necessarily mean cheaper tickets. At least not at first. For a while, ticket prices will be largely dependent on the cost of the technology itself, and NASA engineers tasked with developing the technology admit to starting small.
They’re working with Cape Air, based in Barnstable, Massachusetts, in another project to adapt Cessna 402’s into electric airplanes. The small craft are capable of holding only nine passengers, and certainly aren’t suitable for mass production.
Hopefully it’s only a matter of time before we see bigger, better electric planes–and hopefully they really are cheaper.