Wright tests its 2 megawatt electric motors for airliners – TechCrunch


Like the auto industry, the aerospace industry has its sights set on going electric, but flying with battery-powered engines is a tougher proposition than shooting. Wright It is among the startups looking to change the math and make electrified flight possible at scales beyond small planes, and its 2-megawatt engine could power the first generation of large-scale electric airliners.

Electric cars have proven to be very successful, but they have an advantage over airplanes in that they do not need to produce enough lift to maintain their own mass in the air. Electric airplanes have been held back by this fundamental conundrum, that the weight of batteries required to fly any distance with passengers on board means the plane is too heavy to fly in the first place.

To escape this conundrum, the main thing to improve is efficiency – how much thrust can be produced per watt of power. Since reducing the mass of batteries is a long and slow process, it is better to innovate in other ways: materials, aircraft structure and, of course, the engine, which in traditional jets is huge, immensely heavy and complex internal combustion. .

Electric motors are generally lighter, simpler, and more reliable than those that run on fuel, but achieving flight requires reaching a certain level of efficiency. After all, if a jet burned a thousand gallons of fuel per second, the plane would not be able to hold enough to take off. So it is up to companies like Wright and H3x to build electric motors that can produce more thrust with the same amount of stored energy.

While H3x is focused on small jets that will likely take off earlier, Wright founder and CEO Jeff Engler explained that if you want to take on the aerospace carbon footprint, you really have to start looking for commercial passenger jets, and Wright plans to do so. one. Fortunately, despite the company name, they don’t need to build it. entirely right from the start.

“We are not reinventing the concept of the wing, or the fuselage, or anything like that. What changes is what drives the plane forward, ”Engler said. He compared it to electric vehicles in the sense that much of the car does not change when you switch to electricity, mainly the parts that have worked the same way in principle for a century. However, the integration of a new propulsion system in an aircraft is not trivial.

Wright’s motor is a 2 megawatt motor that produces the equivalent of 2,700 horsepower, with an efficiency of around 10 kilowatts per kilogram. “It is the most powerful motor designed for the electrical aerospace industry by a factor of 2, and it is substantially lighter than any other,” Engler said.

The lightness comes from a redesign from the ground up that uses a permanent magnet approach with “an aggressive thermal strategy,” he explained. A higher voltage than normally used for aerospace purposes and a matching insulation system allow an engine to achieve the power and efficiency levels necessary to put a large aircraft into flight.

CG rendering of an airplane using Wright's engines

Image credits: Wright

Wright is making sure its engines can be used by modernized aircraft, but is also working on a plane of its own with established airframe manufacturers. This first ship would be an electric hybrid, which would combine the light and efficient propulsion stack with the autonomy of a liquid fuel engine. Relying on hydrogen complicates things, but allows for a much faster transition to electric flight and a huge reduction in emissions and fuel use.

Several of Wright’s engines would connect to each wing of the proposed aircraft, providing at least two benefits. First, redundancy. Airplanes with two huge engines are designed to fly even if one fails. If you have six or eight engines, a failure is not so catastrophic, and as a result, the plane does not need to carry twice as many engines as you need. Second is the stability and noise reduction that comes from having multiple motors that can be adjusted individually or together to reduce vibration and counter turbulence.

Right now the engine is in laboratory testing at sea level, and once it passes those tests (sometime next year is the plan) it will run in an altitude simulation chamber and then rise to 40,000 feet. really. This is a long-term project, but an entire industry doesn’t change overnight.

Engler was emphatic about the enthusiasm and support the company has received from people like NASA and the military, who have provided a considerable amount of cash, material and expertise. When I brought up the idea that the company’s engine might end up in a new bomber drone, he said he was sensitive to that possibility, but that what he’s seen (and is aiming for) is much more in line with the department’s never-ending load. defense. and staff flights. It turns out that the military is a huge polluter and they want to change that, and also reduce the amount of money they spend on fuel each year.

“Think about how things changed when we went from propellers to jets,” Engler said. “It redefined how an airplane works. This new propulsion technology allows the entire industry to reshape. “


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