Seattle-area startup Zunum Aero announced plans on Thursday to bring a small hybrid-electric commuter aircraft to market by 2022.
The company promises to offer flights from thousands of airports that get you to your destination two to four times faster at a fraction of the cost.
The company says that its range-optimized hybrid-to-electric aircraft will be traveling over ranges from 700 miles in the early 2020s to over 1,000 miles by 2030. Flying point-to-point to thousands of secondary airports and feeders to hubs, the hybrids will power a distributed air system that complements the concentrated airliners and hubs of today.
The planes will land 5,000+ secondary airports in the US alone, and another 5,000 around the world, according to the company. Thy will seat up to 12 passengers and will be powered by two electric motors, dramatically reducing the travel time and cost of trips under 1,000 miles (1,600 km).
The aircraft has low runway requirements for takeoff and landing, and while the airports would require facilities for the recharge or swap of battery packs. A major upgrade of air traffic control systems that is already in progress supports a distributed electric air network: NextGen in the US, Single European Skies in Europe, and OneSky in Australia are all due to be live by 2023. These use GPS satellites and onboard ADS-B transmitters to allow for high density flights, reduction in air traffic control workload, and all-weather flights to secondary airports without requiring instrument landing systems on the ground.
The company's series hybrid powertrain was designed for an eventual transition to fully electric, without requiring any mechanical retrofitting. The batteries and range extenders are sized specifically for regional distances, with an optimized system that balances the depletion of batteries and use of range-extenders in-flight.
The motor, which Zunum is designing, will drive a fan similar to the bypass fan on a jet engine, but without a jet's combustion. Zunum has started talks with plane makers about building the airframe, and it is building non-flying prototypes of the powertrain to test batteries, the electrical system, software and other components.
Current battery technology can only power the plane for about 100 miles so a gas-powered engine would be used to generate electricity to power the motors for additional range.
Basic aircraft specs
- Max cruise speed 340 mph
- Max range 700+ miles
- Max altitude 25,000 ft
- Runway with 50 ft obstacle 2,200 ft
- Landing distance with 50 ft obstacle 2,500 ft
- Rate of climb 1,600 ft per minute
- Time to climb sea level to FL 25 18 minutes
- Stall speed 73 KIAS
- Architecture Series hybrid with range extender
- Max power 1 MW variants
- Battery mass Under 20% of max take-off weight
- Turbogenerator 500 kW variants
- Emissions 0.0 to 0.3 lbs CO2/ASM
- Sideline noise 65 EPNdB
Zunum does not expect to be the first to certify an electric-powered aircraft with regulators. Rather, it is aiming to fill a market gap for regional travel by airlines, where private jets and commercial jetliners are too costly for many to use.