Posted: 10 July 2018, 5:50 p.m. EDT
Panelists: Moderator Rubén Del Rosario, director of aeronautics, NASA’s Glenn Research Center; Mike Mekhiche, global head, Rolls-Royce Electrical, Rolls-Royce Corp.; Alexander Simpson, executive engineering for electric and hybrid electric propulsion, GE Aviation; Michael Winter, senior fellow, Advanced Technology, Pratt & Whitney
Michele McDonald, AIAA communications manager
Using Arthur C. Clark’s take on the three stages of reaction to revolutionary ideas, panelists in the “Transition to Electric — What’s Hype and What’s Real” session July 10 at the 2018 AIAA Propulsion and Energy Forum in Cincinnati had some opinions and caveats about the technology.
Aircraft electric and hybrid electric propulsion systems have become popular topics and could expand markets while cutting costs and noise, panelists said, adding that policies, regulations and cultural issues all play roles in building the market. The panelists also discussed the plentiful work to be done to address technical issues.
Electrification wasn’t taken seriously less than a decade ago, said panel moderator Rubén Del Rosario, director of aeronautics at NASA’s Glenn Research Center. He explained that colleagues laughed at him when he presented at forums about electrification of aviation in 2011. But, at a recent forum, nearly 90 percent of the presentations dealt with electrification, he said.
Still, electric won’t be replacing traditional engines anytime soon.
“The reality is, this is not an all or nothing approach,” said Mike Mekhiche, global head of Rolls-Royce Electrical at Rolls-Royce Corp.
For example, electric power instead of fuel could be used when a jet taxis on the tarmac, he said.
Electrified flight could become successful by giving people what they want when they want it, panelists said. People are looking for more ways to personalize what they want, said Alexander Simpson, who works with executive engineering for electric and hybrid electric propulsion at GE Aviation. It’s one reason ride-sharing and Amazon have become popular.
“You don’t order from Amazon because it’s greener; you order because it comes to your front door,” Simpson said.
Economic factors will play pivotal roles in the electrification of aviation, said Michael Winter, senior fellow for Advanced Technology at Pratt & Whitney.
Participants in the panel discussion "Transition to Electric — What’s Hype and What’s Real," July 10 at the 2018 AIAA Propulsion and Energy Forum in Cincinnati.
Electric aviation technology is maturing quickly, nearing the sweet spot of .5 to 1 megawatts for urban use, Winter said. Air mobility may be adopted more quickly outside of the United States. Regulation and the litigious nature of U.S. society could hinder adoption, he added.
There’s hype about reduced cost and noise as well as the ability to regenerate power, Winter said.
“We already take advantage of that in aerospace,” he said. “It’s called gravity.”
So where do the experts fall in Clarke’s take on the three stages of reaction to revolutionary ideas of 1) it’s impossible; 2) it’s possible but not worth doing; or 3) it was a good idea all along?
Winter: “Yes, in the appropriate market segments from a technical perspective.”
Simpson: “I’m a 3. I said it was a good idea all along.”
Mekhiche: “I’m a 2-3.”
Del Rosario: “I’ve been a 3 all along.”
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