The 500KW Electric Motor Powering The Airlander 10 Hybrid Airship

There has been another significant stride in the advancement of zero-emission aviation. Collins Aerospace has today announced that it has completed vital design reviews and started the manufacturing of its 500-kilowatt electric motor. This system will be used on Hybrid Air Vehicles’ Airlander 10 airship.

Airlander 10 Airship
The Airlander 10 combines lift assisted by its helium-filled hull and propulsion from a hybrid electric motor to help it reach a max altitude of 20,000 feet (6,096 meters). Photo: Hybrid Air Vehicles

Adapting to the new climate

The Airlander 10 traces its roots to nearly a decade ago, and there has been considerable progress in recent years, especially in the last few months. It is set to transport up to 100 passengers at speeds of 80 mph (130 km/h) with its hybrid-electric powerplant by 2025. This process is also set to scale up further with all-electric, zero-emission propulsion by 2030.

Collins Aerospace has been designing and testing its 500 kilowatt electric motor at its Electronic Controls and Motor Systems Center of Excellence in the UK’s West Midland town of Solihull. The company shares that flight qualification testing is expected to start in two years. This milestone will help two of Airlander 10’s four engines be replaced by Collins’ motor by the middle of this decade and all of them refitted by 2030.

The ATI Programme co-funded the research project to develop the electric motor, E-HAV1. This initiative is a joint UK Government and industry investment to maintain and develop the country’s competitive position in civil aerospace design and manufacture. Overall, the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and Innovate UK partnered here to address technology, capability, and supply chain challenges.

Airlander 10 Roadmap
The journey time between Seattle and Vancouver would take four hours and 12 minutes via the Airlander 10, producing up to approximately 11 times less CO2 per passenger than a jet. Photo: Hybrid Air Vehicles

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A clear approach

Simple Flying caught up with Marc Holme, senior director, Electronic Controls and Motor Systems for Collins, to discuss the motor project. Holme expresses that sustainability is a key point for Collins and the industry as a whole. Therefore, this program is heavily centered around this factor.

“We’re looking to decarbonize, and we’re looking at ways we can support that strategy through electrification. Electric propulsion is a key element of that. So, we are really pleased to be working with hybrid vehicles over the last couple of years to develop this program where we would look to ultimately electrify the Airlander 10 air vehicle,” Holme told Simple Flying.

“We’ve been working with Hybrid Air Vehicles to develop the requirements for the propulsion system, and then we’ve been looking at the electric machine. Another partner in the program is the University of Nottingham, which is looking at the controller for that machine. We do controllers ourselves in Collins, but as part of this Aerospace Technology Institute-funded program, we have the university doing some fundamental research around controllers, which has been very valuable.”

Electric Power
Collins Aerospace, a Raytheon Technologies company, recently invested $18 million to expand its Electronic Controls and Motor Systems Center of Excellence campus and introduce state-of-the-art power electronics and motor development abilities. Photo: Collins Aerospace

The wider mission

Holme adds that the teams are developing a notably novel machine with advanced topology. The prime goal of working with hybrids is getting a machine that gives a real advantage in terms of the specific power level. The aim is to produce power with the lowest weight possible. Those behind the program have worked on developing and training a number of topologies, and they have now settled on a particular design.

This aspect has allowed the partnership to truly investigate some more fundamentals around the machine. This includes evolving from using traditional steels and titanium to composite materials, particularly when it comes to structural elements. Interestingly, this low-speed 2,000 RPM machine directly interfaces and drives the propulsor.

AIrlander 10 Cabin
The Airlander 10 is 92 meters long, offers a 10-tonne payload, and can stay airborne for five full days. Photo: Hybrid Air Vehicles

Even though the 500 kilowatt electric motor will debut on the Airlander 10 airship, it can be adapted to fit on other types of aircraft, such as turboprops. The UK government is undoubtedly keen to back greener air travel. For instance, in summer 2019, it revealed a £300 million (~$416 million) investment to develop more sustainable forms of air transport. Therefore, it’s no surprise that these sorts of systems are well-supported by authorities.

What are your thoughts about Collins Aerospace’s 500 kilowatt electric motor and Hybrid Air Vehicles’ Airlander 10 airship? What do you make of the prospects in this field this decade? Let us know what you think of the scene in the comment section.

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