When one mentions “battery-powered” airplanes, it would be normal to think that it would be one of those remote-controlled toy airplanes that we are talking about. With this team of researchers from Kyushu University though, you would be wrong – as they are targeting to design a quiet and environmentally friendly electric airplane powered by batteries that would bring human passengers from point A to point B in the next 5 years.
Kyushu University aerospace engineering professor Shigeru Aso says that he’d like to implement to real-world use the current technology and research being done worldwide on electric airplanes. “I want to see an electric plane in the air in five years,” he said. The research group Aso heads is looking to remodel an existing small aircraft with the same electric motors, power control units and lithium-ion batteries now found in electric cars. They would like to do ground tests at Oita Keno Airport in Oita Prefecture where during those tests, the engineers of the team would be checking on the RPM of the electric motor, current and the condition of the batteries, and use the data to evaluate the overall performance of the system. This data will be essential in deciding if real-word technology would be able to provide enough acceleration and propulsion to put the plane in the air.
Yaskawa Inc., makers of electronic drive technology, has loaned the research team electric motors and power control units, while Ryokeiso, another Japanese industrial manufacturer, contributed power supply controllers that will link the batteries to the motors. Kyushu University will be providing the small airplane, and its research team will do the data collection and analysis. Aso says that the data gathered from this experiment would be foundational for the development of a prototype electric airplane that will actually fly, and if the data experiment looks promising, Yaskawa may consider building a test electric aircraft motor. According to Professor Aso, electric aircraft are attracting attention as the next-generation transport technology, but he maintains that a lot of work needs to be done on lightening the current motors and improving battery performance.