Thanks to the new ‘E-Conditions’ legislation interceded by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), a team of talented aerospace engineering students at the University of the West of England (UWE) will be the first to build an electric aircraft.
“The technology is now there to start looking at green aviation. It is the right time to showcase this technology.”
Having purchased a single-seater airframe (pictured right) for the project, UWE Bristol is the first university in the country attempting to build and fly such a concept aircraft under the new regulations – which permit more experimental aircraft to take the skies, trialing a greener approach to aviation.
We caught up with project leader and associate lecturer in Aerospace Engineering at UWE, Kim-Tobias Kohn, who will work with 20 lucky students to build the aircraft – a battery-powered glider – ahead of a demonstration flight at Aston Down airfield in 2017.
Student-powered: Students at UWE celebrate the arrival of the airframe
and the prospect of working on this experimental aircraft
Highlighting the need for greener aviation, Kim tells us: “Every second, 11 tonnes of fuel are burned in aviation and the carbon emissions go where it is most harmful – near the ozone layer. So this is about the sustainability of the planet.
“The technology is now there to start looking at green aviation. You need to start small but you have to show it is actually possible. It is the right time to showcase this technology.”
Out of the classroom and onto the runway, the project will enable more students to gain practical experience using the theoretical knowledge they’ve learned from their courses, but with less regulatory hurdles.
“I want students to think out of the box, get away from the theory, and experience what it’s like to work on an aircraft”
The students’ involvement will include the installation of a lightweight electric motor into the nose and a lithium-based battery in the body. They will also contribute towards the drafting of a pilot’s operating handbook.
Kim adds: “The aim of the project is to get students out of the teaching room and into the practical arena, applying their knowledge and skills to the real world.
“I want students to think out of the box, get away from the theory, and experience what it’s like to work on an aircraft. It provides a research platform for zero emission transport and offers a new area of student engagement and student project possibilities.
“So far we’ve had five masters students working on it. All of them have wanted to continue work on the aircraft above and beyond their project scope.”
Commenting on the future of the project, Kim tells us: “We would like the glider to be solar powered, which would result in a flight time of six to seven hours, but to equip the wings would cost £300,000 currently.”
“Flying remains, from an aerodynamics point of view, the most efficient means of transportation”
He adds: “This is a small stage in green transportation. The pace and quality, as well as affordability of future technology will define the possible outcomes within this sector.
“There are plans for a 2-seater aircraft and even more, but we need to focus on this stage and evaluate its potential. Flying remains, from an aerodynamics point of view, the most efficient means of transportation.”
In addition to Kim’s future project proposals, the team at UWE have plans to work closely with the CAA and the Royal Aeronautical Society to pilot the process of setting up regulations for all new electric aircraft in the UK.
More information on the progress of the project will also be available via a series of video blogs on YouTube, which will become available to watch in the coming weeks.