Airbus has today announced that it is scrapping its plans to launch a hybrid-electric aircraft called the E-Fan X. The aircraft was a part of a project between Airbus and Rolls-Royce, which was launched in 2017. However, given the ongoing pandemic and its impact on the airline industry, Airbus has assessed that further development on this project is not viable at the moment.
The project was part of the European Commission’s Flightpath 2050 vision to develop a quieter and more environment-friendly aircraft. Moreover, the project had reached key milestones and was set to undergo its maiden flight in 2021.
The Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Airbus, Grazia Vittadini, has said that the decision has come as a part of Airbus’ strategy to prioritize its current ambitions. She added:
“As with all ground-breaking R&T projects, it’s our duty to constantly evaluate and reprioritize them to ensure alignment with our ambitions. These decisions are not always easy. But they’re undoubtedly necessary to stay the course.”
Over that, Rolls-Royce CTO Paul Stein has openly stated that the cancellation of the project was a mutual decision based on the current situation. He said,” it has become clear to both parties that the actual requirement to carry out a test flight with all the elements integrated is not critical at this time.”
Moreover, he reasoned that as an aircraft, E-Fan X was always designed to be a demonstrator. There were no plans to put the plane into commercial service. Hence, the scrapping of aircraft development was justified as the industry has bigger problems to solve right now.
Aircraft design and learnings
E-Fan X was to be made out of various components of pre-existing electric and aircraft manufacturers. The body of the aircraft was planned to be the same as that of British Aerospace (BAe) 146. However, one out of four of its Lycoming turbofans was to be replaced by a Siemens 2 MW (2700 hp) electric motor. Although most of the aircraft was pretty much similar to a BAe 146, E-Fan X was expected to demonstrate the capabilities of electric-powered airplanes.
Unfortunately, the design has been scrapped even before the aircraft took its first flight. But, Airbus and Rolls-Royce have both been content with the lessons and learnings that they have gained from this project. Specifically, those relating to hybrid architectures, high-voltage systems, and battery technologies. Airbus’ innovation segment is already using some of these breakthroughs for other purposes.
Despite the abandoning of the E-Fan X project, Stein has said that Rolls-Royce will independently keep working on the power generation systems to capture all the possible lessons. This involves the integration of the generator with its control and thermal management systems. This means that Rolls-Royce will continue with the development of the electric engine, which can be fitted on any aircraft in the near future.
To conclude, although the plan might be officially canceled, we can be hopeful to see Rolls-Royce contributing to a similar hybrid-electric aircraft soon.
Do you think the cancellation of E-Fan X was the right decision? Let us know in the comments.