back to article EasyJet: We'll have electric airliners within the next decade

EasyJet has given its blessing to a mildly bonkers plan to replace airliners with electrically propelled aircraft on short-haul flights. The low-cost airline is supporting American startup Wright Electric, which, judging by the picture on its homepage, wants to insert a large number of ducted fans into the wing-root area of …

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  1. FuzzyWuzzys Silver badge
    Joke

    Well....

    Look at this way, if you're up at 20,000 feet and the batteries go flat then the passengers could start peddling to recharge them!

    1. malle-herbert Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Well....

      Or :

      "This is your captain speaking... Would all passengers please unplug all of your laptops, smartphones, Ipad's and other electrical devices from the charging-outlets...We're running a bit low on juice.... Thank you..."

      1. Bob Wheeler

        Re: Well....

        No, the Captain flips a switch and the charging ports become de-charging ports and the airplane keeps flying for a few more minutes

        1. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Re: Well....

          No, the Captain flips a switch and the charging ports become de-charging ports and the airplane keeps flying for a few more minutes

          Imagine the howls of complaint from the passenger cabin.

          Captain: "Look, you idiots, you can either carry on posting your vapid nonsense on Twitter or we can carry on flying."

          Passengers: "TWITTER!!!!

          Captain: "Alright, you asked for it. Me and the co-pilot have parachutes."

          Twitterer: "I neva knew freefall was so much f..."

    2. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Re: Well....

      I was thinking exactly the same thing - I wonder if they could back in more passengers if everyone was on an exercise bike style contraption rather than a regular seat?

      And I'm sure that Ryanair would find a money-making opportunity, like an extra £10 if you want a saddle.

      1. Michael B.

        Re: Well....

        Exercise bike? Go for a stepper and you can get them standing upright and therefore take up less space.

      2. Haku

        Re: Well....

        "This is your captain speaking, can everyone who has a USB power bank please plug them in to the provided sockets on the arm rests, thank you."

      3. Keith Oborn

        Re: Well....

        I think large electric commercial carriers are a long way off.

        However, I fly giiders and we are on the cusp of a move for motor-assisted aircraft to move from small IC (90 minute duration) to electric (currently 45 minute duration and rising, price is pretty similar). The same goes for launch systems (winches and tug aircraft).

        So at the "small" end of commercial aviation it may well be that a ten year horizon for electric propulsion is feasible.

        GIven the work that Renault et al are doing on 'in-motion" EV charge systems (car is charged as it passes over the road) it's not beyond reason to go for runways that provide initial takeoff power. That helps, as acceleration to flying speed is not an insignificant part of the overall energy budget of an aircraft.

        A hybrid dirigible that uses aerodymanic lift as well as internal bouyancy would probably be feasible right now. Slower, but for the smaller/shorter routes that may not matter.

        Or big electric catapults: might scare the punters :-)

        1. Holtsmark
          Boffin

          Re: Well....

          For self launching gliders, where the mission requires relatively much power (in glider terms), but not much energy (just enough to get up into thermals, and then some to get home after you screwed up), electric propulsion beats infernal combustion today (even with regards to aircraft empty weight). HOWEVER, the energy density of today's batteries is two orders of magnitude less than hydrocarbons.

          Anybody who projects battery powered airliners in the relatively near future either does not know what he or she is talking about, or has the need for some positive (although gullible) press. (for example, Boeing hyped the Sonic Cruiser when Airbus was about to roll out the A380)

          What can be expected is varying degrees of hybridization, where energy production can take place on one location, while the propulsors are distributed where it is aerodyynamically advantageous.

          So: Expect battery electric sailplanes, aerobatic machines, initial trainers, and maybe even intra city hoppers to dominate the future. Everything else needs a different energy storage solution.

          and Keith.. try to guess what I do for a living :)..

        2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          Re: Well....

          " it's not beyond reason to go for runways that provide initial takeoff power. "

          Sure could. You wouldnt need to transmit the power to the vehicle either . just use inductance and fire that puppy off - railgun stlye!

          1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
            Boffin

            "just use inductance and fire that puppy off - railgun stlye!"

            Actual railgun launch is around 100 000g acceleration.

            As for a carriage well the USN has got that EMALS thing working and that can throw about 27 tonnes of F35 into the air in 45 secs,

            An Airbus A380 is about 575 tonnes, or 21x bigger.

            1. Captain DaFt

              Re: "just use inductance and fire that puppy off - railgun stlye!"

              As for a carriage well the USN has got that EMALS thing working and that can throw about 27 tonnes of F35 into the air in 45 secs,

              An Airbus A380 is about 575 tonnes, or 21x bigger.

              Looks like each airport would need its own power plant to launch and charge planes, doesn't it?

              ... That actually might work. Build a new airport? Include a power plant.

              Build a new power plant? Include a new airport.

              1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

                Re: "just use inductance and fire that puppy off - railgun stlye!"

                "Looks like each airport would need its own power plant to launch and charge planes, doesn't it?"

                Well they could capture energy from landing planes to avoid all that wasted energy on brakes and retro thrust. Arrestor Hook on the back , cocks the catapult for next plane.

            2. MachDiamond Silver badge

              Re: "just use inductance and fire that puppy off - railgun stlye!"

              The force on the A380 front landing gear is designed to be in the opposite direction of an EMALS catapult. The first time they try to catapult an unmodified aircraft will be very exciting as the front gear is torn away and propelled miles into the next town.

        3. Wibble

          Re: Well....

          Electric launching trolley that gets the aircraft up to operational altitude, separates, then returns to base for recharging and launching the next one? Aircraft now needs smaller engines for the cruise?

          1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

            Re: Well....

            An aircraft must have a safe rate of climb without external add-ons in order to cope with missed-approach situations That requirement would prevent fitting smaller "cruise only" engines.

            In addition the aircraft will need at least enough charge in its battery to get to its intended destination, then execute a missed approach followed by a diversion to an alternate airport & landing (with the alternate being far enough away that it is unlikely to be experiencing the same shitty weather that caused the missed approach at the intended destination).

            1. Triggerfish

              Re: Well....

              Actual just turn the props into dynamos, get charged as they spin during the plummet, course the whole journey could be like the Vomit Comet.

              1. Jaybus

                Re: Well....

                Ah! Yes! The perpetual motion machine should definitely be included in any discussion of an electric airliner.

        4. Mage Silver badge

          Re: Well....

          Not in anything other than good weather.

        5. really_adf

          Re: Well....

          is feasible.

          GIven the work that Renault et al are doing on 'in-motion" EV charge systems (car is charged as it passes over the road) it's not beyond reason to go for runways that provide initial takeoff power.

          I'd have thought a passenger-friendly version of a steam catapult (ie just pull the aeroplane, not transfer energy for its own motors) would serve this purpose much more simply, no?

          Since this isn't done already, I guess there's either some difficulty that can't be overcome or the benefit isn't enough to warrant it. *Shrugs*

          1. Mark 85 Silver badge

            Re: Well....

            Or go for JATO or RATO bottles on the aircraft. They've been mounting the military has been mounting them on various C-xxx aircraft for some time. Noisy, smoky, and the expended ones need to be dropped after use. The dropping part might clear the neighborhoods built at the end of runways, however.

            The military has also been fitting them with more bottles than needed for a launch as a backup or for missed landings and requiring a go-around.

        6. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Well....

          "...it's not beyond reason to go for runways that provide initial takeoff power."

          Hey, yeah, airports with runways which have big catapults on them.

          And, ships could even be designed with catapul...Uhoh! :-(

          Anon Y. Mous

        7. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Well....

          "A hybrid dirigible that uses aerodymanic lift as well as internal bouyancy would probably be feasible right now. Slower, but for the smaller/shorter routes that may not matter."

          Wouldn't the problem be that going slowly DOESN'T generate much lift unless you have honking HUGE wings?

          1. PNGuinn Silver badge
            Coat

            Re: Well....

            A flying electric bum.

            What's not to like?

      4. djstardust Silver badge

        Re: Well....

        Judging by todays news of another 400,000 cancelled flights I would doubt ryanair will still exist in a year let alone ten!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Well....

          Judging by todays news of another 400,000 cancelled flights I would doubt ryanair will still exist in a year let alone ten!

          ANd yet they've been around for more than 30 years..

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Well....

        I was thinking exactly the same thing - I wonder if they could back in more passengers if everyone was on an exercise bike style contraption rather than a regular seat?

        That would actually take up more room. The next obvious evolution in airline seating is standing through the whole trip.

        1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          Re: Well....

          " The next obvious evolution in airline seating is standing through the whole trip."

          To me its lying down. Where you have 3 seats abreast i'd much rather have 3 bunks / tubes . like those things in japan . tak a nap , read a book , all the things you can do sitting , plus sleep .

          1. macjules Silver badge

            Re: Well....

            Tsk Tsk, sleeping cargo passengers do not buy anything.

    3. macjules Silver badge

      Re: Well....

      Why not go the full Matrix? "Just assume the brace position sir while we connect you up"

    4. hplasm Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: Well....

      But what could they sell?

    5. This post has been deleted by its author

    6. Steve the Cynic Silver badge

      Re: Well....

      "the passengers could start peddling"

      Probably better if they started pedalling, but sure, it creates an interesting image: propelling an airliner by hawking cheap tat street market style...

    7. Jeffrey Nonken Silver badge

      Re: Well....

      "...the passengers could start peddling to recharge them!"

      I think it's the airline that's selling snake oil here, not the passengers!

      ...Or did you mean "pedaling"?

      1. Nick Kew Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: Well....

        ...Or did you mean "pedaling"?

        Piddling!

    8. herman Silver badge

      Re: Well....

      Err.. Peddling - Who are they going to sell the batteries to at that altitude?

  2. Steve Evans

    They're gonna need a bit more than a fast charge to even get close to the usual 30-40 minute turn round they like to perform...

    Unless QueezyJet are happy with only one flight a day for each plane!

    1. ArrZarr Silver badge

      Design a plane with replaceable battery packs, probably in the wings.

      Phone makers, take note.

    2. anothercynic Silver badge

      @Steve Evans

      If you have a look at the Wright Electric site, they are looking at quick-change battery packs as one of the features of their prototypes, so this would be something that would be resolved ;-)

      1. Chris Miller

        Re: @Steve Evans

        The whole concept is bonkers (unless they're in possession of some technology beyond the currently understood laws of physics). Electric cars work well (up to a point), but they're massively heavy because they're full of batteries. On a surface vehicle this isn't an insuperable obstacle, but aircraft designers grapple constantly with how to shed every excess pound. An aircraft (even a personal one*) with sufficient battery power for an hour's duration flight would be far too massive to get off the ground.

        * Unless you're looking at something like the Gossamer Albatross or the Solar Impulse - but they're no-ones idea of a prototype airliner. A top speed of 75 kts would be a bit of a drawback, for a start.

    3. D@v3

      charge times

      Easy jet already prefer you not to bring hold luggage (or, well, charge a bloody fortune for it), so make that even more 'preferable' and use the space in the hold that would have suitcases in it, for freaking giant, easily removable, batteries.

      During passenger loading / unloading, forklift comes and takes the old batteries out, shoves some new ones in.

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: charge times

        battries are , like , heavy , man.

        I think the problems weight , not space , you dig?

  3. graeme leggett Silver badge

    Vulcan, Valiant, Victor - all wing root engines. Also DH Comet

    Engines in the roots make for a noisier aircraft internally. Not so noticeable on military aircraft when crew all up front. Comet less of a problem because it was still much quieter (and smoother) than a piston engine aircraft.

    I should also add that narrow turbojets (or low-bypass turbofans) take up less frontal area than high bypass turbofans hence they could fit them in wingroot.

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge
      Coat

      Comet less of a problem because it was still much quieter (and smoother) than a piston engine aircraft.

      ..and of course it was comforting to hear them, because then you knew they were still there.

      1. Mark York 3
        Coat

        because then you knew they were still there.

        Even when the roof suddenly wasn't....

      2. Alan Newbury
        Coat

        "I can't hear the port engine"

        "Hang on, I'll just open the window..."

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      "Vulcan, Valiant, Victor - all wing root engines. Also DH Comet"

      According to Bill Gunston this was because the UK industry badly miscalculated the drag on podded engines.

      Putting the engines in pods on the wings apparently stops the wings "waggling" about as much and definitely makes them a lot easier to service

      And of course putting them next to the fuselage means the cabin is either much noisier or you have to increase sound insulation a lot.

      That said the Victor and Vulcan looked stunning aircraft, despite neither being actually supersonic.

      1. mike white 1

        Supersonic Victor

        I seem to remember that an early Victor B1 did manage to break the sound barrier in a shallow dive, the only one of the V Bombers ever to do so

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Unhappy

          "seem to remember..an early Victor B1 did manage to break the sound barrier in a shallow dive, "

          I did not know this.

          Although I was aware that one of the airliners in the 1950's had gone supersonic.

          It did not seem to be that bigger deal apparently.

  4. TRT Silver badge

    Small steps...

    (1) increase the buoyancy of the plane by, say, having some hydrogen or helium filled bag on the top.

    (2) supplementing the main engines by way of ducted turbo fans so that take-off and landing thrust is generated by burning kerosene, but they can be throttled way back during level flight.

    (3) using some form of chemo-electrical reaction to create the electricity needed. No idea what, I'm not a chemist.

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