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A partnership of Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV), Collins Aerospace, and the University of Nottingham (UoN) has won grant funding in excess of £1m from the UK Aerospace Research and Technology Programme to develop electric propulsion technologies using Airlander 10 as the initial platform. The project, named E-HAV1, will deliver a full-sized prototype 500kW electric propulsor for ground testing and technologies ready for future productionisation. These technologies will be directly applicable to a future Airlander 10, with the goal of replacing its fuel-burning forward engines as the first step towards an all-electric version of the aircraft.

Airlander take off

Utilising a combination of buoyant lift from helium, aerodynamic lift, and vectored thrust, Airlander 10 already operates with a significantly lower fuel burn than other aircraft of similar capability. The integration of electric forward propulsors will increase this advantage. Airlander 10’s ability to support a broad range of activities from passenger travel to fisheries protection makes it the ideal platform for pioneering electric propulsion in civil aircraft.

Project E-HAV1 will address key goals of the UK Aerospace Technology Strategy: strengthening the UK’s aerospace capabilities, positioning the UK for developing future generations of civil aircraft, and advancing a new generation of efficient propulsion technologies. Each of the three partners is a leader in their sector: HAV in whole-aircraft design capability, Collins in electric power system development, and UoN in electric propulsion research and testing.

This collaboration demonstrates the commitment all three organisations have to the future of sustainable aviation. “Reducing our carbon footprint is one of the biggest challenges facing aviation today,” says HAV’s CEO Stephen McGlennan. “While Airlander 10 is already helping customers Rethink the Skies with incredible efficiency, we have to find ways of further reducing the impact we have on our environment. This project will move us closer to our goal of zero-carbon aviation.”

“As the innovation leader in electric power systems for the aerospace and defense industry, Collins Aerospace is proud to join with our partners in advancing this critical initiative,” said Marc Holme, Motor Drive Systems Engineering Director at Collins Aerospace. “Together, we’re developing innovative technologies that will pave the way for the hybrid-electric and all-electric aircraft of the future.”

Prof Pat Wheeler, Head of the University of Nottingham’s Power Electronics, Machines and Control Research Group, commented, “we are really looking forward to the exciting challenges of applying our technological knowledge of electrical machines, power electronics and power systems to the Airlander propulsion application.  This project will also benefit from the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund (RPIF) investment in our new Centre for Power Electronics and Electrical Machines, which will open early in 2020”.

Business Minister Lord Henley said: “The UK has world-leading capabilities in aerospace manufacturing. The testing of this new electric engine, is our modern Industrial Strategy in action. This is a vital step in aerospace manufacturing to ensure the UK remains at the forefront of hybrid-electric technology, using the best talent, industry and innovation to transform the way people, goods and services move across the UK.”

The E-HAV1 project is supported by the UK’s Aerospace Technology Programme, a joint Government and industry investment to maintain and grow the UK’s competitive position in civil aerospace design and manufacture. The programme is delivered through a partnership between the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Innovate UK; addressing large-scale technology and capability challenges, principally over a rolling 5 to 15-year timeframe.

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