CORDIS - EU research results

WATTsUP Electric flight to future

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - WATTsUP (WATTsUP Electric flight to future)

Reporting period: 2016-08-01 to 2017-12-31

The aim of WATTsUP project was to industrialize and commercialize proof-of-concept WATTsUP prototype 2-seat electric trainer, first of its kind and characteristics in a LSA class world market (LSA - Light-Sport Aircraft, is the newest category of aircraft that has been rapidly taking on the conservative General Aviation world of light aircraft since their introduction 10 years ago).

The main project results of the WATTsUP Project is the market and production-ready electric trainer. This aircraft will be for the first time in aviation history an easy to fly and simple to operate electric trainer. To achieve the robustness required in the intensive training, new electric propulsion components were developed including novel Battery Management Systems for aviation propulsion and novel Human-Machine-Interface. The research and development work on electric propulsion will be complemented by the documentation and an interactive training system to help students in achieving their pilot's license on an electric aircraft. In fact, with air travel increasing 4% every year, the demand for professional pilots is going to explode in the next decades. The WATTsUP project objective is to address this market, by developing, maturing and bringing to market an electric aircraft aimed to cut down the costs ab initio training on flight schools, but also to offer a fun-to-fly, zero-emission and quite airplane for recreational use of private pilots.

Electric aviation will have in the next decade a massive impact on how we live and travel, because it is clean, scalable and quiet. Developed and matured on small electric aircraft, electric aviation will evolve to larger aircraft to reduce emissions of air travel on regional level, but also to power new transportation means: vertical take-off and landing personal air vehicles. Before 2025 we envision first piloted vertical take-off and landing vehicles which will evolve in the next decade to small, autonomous electric aircraft. They will revolutionize the way we travel adding a new, cleaner and faster, dimension to today's commuting needs. The electric propulsion system for this future will be developed, tested and improved on small electric aircraft like WATTsUP.
The introduction of an innovative aircraft on the marker requires innovative propulsion components. The power controller, the electric motor’s inverter, the battery management system, the batteries, the optimized cooling circuit, using liquid for the motor and the inverter and air for the batteries, had to be designed to achieve a reliable aircraft. In absence of digital instruments suitable to control electric aircraft, a custom instrument was also developed including the Human Machine Interface design – i.e. the mean to represent and communicate the electric powertrain status and indicators to pilots encountering an electric aircraft for the first time. The Alpha Electro is also a “software driven aircraft” with throttle by wire – the protocols, the bus architecture, the scheduling, the charging routines developed to control all components required an intense ground and flight testing effort to validate the hardware and the software design. Beside the powertrain, a new recuperation method and a new software tool for designing recuperating propellers were developed to exploit the energy recuperation possibility offered by electric aircraft.
This electric trainer required also a new composite fuselage to be designed. The higher distance from the ground of the electric motor, the new cooling system, the battery boxes positioned one in front and one behind required a redesign of the structures and the development of new molds. Especially the wide apertures needed to enable quick battery replacement required new structural tests and simulations to ensure the certificability of the design.
An extensive work to prepare design data, testing reports, validation data and production quality assurance documentation was carried out to support preparatory certification activities on a global scale, including Australia, Canada, Switzerland and France. In Europe the major effort was dedicated to the European Light Sport Aircraft certification with the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).
Also new training approaches for this aircraft were developed by preparing an interactive online training course to familiarize students to electric flight and to the systems of this electric aircraft.
The dissemination activities were carried in a wide palette of events, ranging from major airshows (AERO, Oshkosh, Paris Air Show, etc.) to specialized conferences (AIAA, E2Fliegen Symposium, etc) and bilateral meetings with civil aviation authorities for the purpose of preparing certification activities.
The exploitation of the project WATTsUP started with a pre-series of aircraft delivered to selected customers to receive the first market feedbacks, followed by the serial production with the first serially produced aircraft being delivered to Australia. The commercial name selected for the electric trainer is Alpha Electro. Production and sales of the aircraft is the primary exploitation channel of the project WATTsUP, with secondary being design services and electric powertrain components offered to other manufacturers interested to develop electric aircraft.
Several small electric aircraft are currently under development in the world, due to the increased availability of lightweight powerful motors and inverters, but their development is focused on technological advances which lead these aircraft to be more suitable for test pilots rather than for aviation enthusiasts willing to earn their pilot’s license. The project WATTsUP is leading the electric aviation development by approaching electric flying in a ecosystem approach: not only the aircraft systems are matured to create an easy-to-operate and fun-to-fly aircraft suitable for any pilot, but also the charging equipment, the maintenance and flight training are addressed. The visible, near-term, impact of electric aviation to the society will be the reduction of environmental impact of light aircraft, but also an increased acceptance of flight activities in the airport neighborhood due to the zero emission and quiet flying.
The next generation pilots train on electric aircraft.
Alpha Electro, the zero emissions two seat aircraft, in flight.