Hybrid Electric Aircraft Demonstrator
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After several years of travelling between Tarbes and Toulouse on a regular basis to oversee EcoPulse’s development, Airbus Project Leader William Llobregat found himself back onsite in November 2023 with his team, and those of Daher and Safran. The occasion? The first EcoPulse test flight. “This project was launched in 2019,” says Llobregat, a next-generation propulsion architect. “It’s really exciting to have reached the concrete stage of the project where we are flight testing the technologies we have developed.”
The first flight marks the beginning of an eight-month flight testing campaign of the distributed hybrid-propulsion systems and the associated technologies, led by Daher. A hybrid-electric propulsion system combines a high-voltage battery with a turbomachine equipped with an electrical generator, and the distributed aspect means there are multiple propulsion “pods” spread along the wings.
Hybridization is an important investment area for Airbus as estimates show that it could reduce an aircraft’s environmental footprint up to 5 percent. The EcoPulse first flight, with the functional hybrid-propulsion system aboard, thus marks a major, concrete step in advancing the company’s electrification roadmap.
EcoPulse took off for its inaugural test flight from the scenic Tarbes–Lourdes–Pyrénées Airport, nestled at the foot of the Pyrénées mountain range in southwest France. Two experimental Daher pilots were onboard the demonstrator, a modified Daher TBM 900 turboprop aircraft. While take-off and landing used the traditional propulsion engine, the hybrid-propulsion system was activated at cruising altitude, where the pilots spent around 20 minutes running test sequences on the battery while it was powering the flight.
All aspects of the different systems, from the way the aircraft responds to the way the power sources are used, were previously simulated digitally and tested by the pilots on the ground. This theoretical data can now be compared with the real flight test data to help the teams better refine the simulator and improve the performance of the different innovative technology components.
Which technology components, you may ask? Airbus, Daher and Safran divided the responsibilities of developing the different EcoPulse technologies based on their complementary expertise. Airbus’ contributions to the demonstrator are the development of the high-energy-density battery that powers the propulsors; the aerodynamic and acoustic integration of the distributed-propulsion system; and the development of a flight control computer system.
“Technological demonstrators like Ecopulse play a key role in advancing our industry’s decarbonisation roadmap,” says Llobregat. “The demonstrators themselves are not intended to ever enter into service, but they allow us to evaluate, mature and validate individual technologies that can then be integrated into future aircraft.”