NASA and GE Aviation established a new cooperation in October to develop a megawatt-class hybrid electric engine capable of powering a single-aisle airplane. The project moved a step closer to takeoff today. Boeing has been chosen by GE Aviation to modify the plane that will be used to test the propulsion system in the air.
NASA’s Electric Powertrain Flight Demonstration (EPFD) project includes the NASA-GE collaboration. NASA, GE Aviation, Boeing, and other partners have contributed $260 million to the five-year project.
Naveed Hussain, Boeing’s chief technology officer and vice president and general manager of Boeing Research & Technology, said, “We’re pleased to contribute our extensive research and testing of hybrid electric propulsion systems… for a project that will no doubt be an important milestone on the path to more sustainable air travel.”
The test plane, a Saab 340B powered by GE CT7-9B turboprop engines, will be modified by Boeing and its subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences. The nacelle — the pod that supports the engine under the wing — is being built, as is flight deck software and interface design, performance analysis tools, and other systems integration.
Aurora, a pioneer in electric flight propulsion, was bought by Boeing in 2017. Aurora’s factories in Mississippi and West Virginia will create nacelles. The work on systems engineering and testing will be done at the company’s headquarters in Virginia.
NASA’s Electric Powertrain Flight Demonstration Project is an opportunity for GE Aviation and Boeing, world leaders in aviation technologies, to demonstrate that hybrid electric propulsion is real and possible for the future of commercial flight to reduce carbon emissions, said Mohamed Ali, GE Aviation’s vice president and general manager of engineering.
For more than a decade, GE Aviation has designed and tested hybrid electric systems, including motors, generators, and power converters. These innovations can help you save money on gas and improve the performance of your engine. They work with sustainable aviation fuels and hydrogen, as well as innovative engine designs including the open-fan idea.
Electrical systems were developed by GE for Boeing’s 787 and 777X passenger aeroplanes, among other planes. United Airlines operated a scheduled trip from Chicago to Washington, D.C. last autumn in which one of the two engines was solely powered by SAF. CFM International, a 50-50 joint venture between GE and Safran Aircraft Engines, created the LEAP-1B engine.
GE’s foray into electric flying isn’t limited to the NASA project. GE Research scientists are also collaborating with the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) branch of the US Department of Energy to develop an electric-powered aircraft propulsion system. The idea behind that system is to combine gasified biofuel and compressed air to generate electricity and heat, with the electricity spinning the engine fan and the heat exhaust being utilised to provide extra propulsion, similar to how a combined-cycle power plant uses exhaust. The objective is to develop a system that is both strong and light enough to keep a 175,000-pound commercial aeroplane and its 175 passengers airborne at all times.
GE is dedicated to decarbonizing aviation. Last June, the firm presented its Sustainability Report, committing to becoming carbon neutral in its own operations by 2030, and later stated a goal of being net zero by 2050, including Scope 3 emissions from the usage of marketed products. The International Air Transport Association pledged in October to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.