EcoPulse, a French-designed hybrid-electric aircraft

French-designed hybrid-electric aircraft takes a step closer to flight

The world may see a French-designed hybrid-electric aircraft take to the skies as early as 2022.

The EcoPulse, a distributed propulsion hybrid aircraft demonstrator currently being developed by Daher, Safran, and Airbus with France’s Corac civil aviation research council, has just recently successfully passed its “preliminary design review” (PDR) as a first critical step toward validating the project’s feasibility and firming up the architecture for an early flight scheduled in 2022.

Incorporating a distributed propulsion configuration from Daher, Safran, and Airbus, this shared hybrid aircraft project aims to help transform the aviation sector. EcoPulse, which was unveiled at the 2019 Paris Air Show, is backed by the French government—with a reaffirmation of support coming in the framework of France’s recovery plan presented last June. By laying the framework for light aircraft by the end of the decade, it will allow the development of technologies that reduce future commercial aircraft’s environmental footprint, thus contributing to the air transportation sector’s decarbonization objectives by 2050.

After more than one year of development based on a light aircraft platform supplied by Daher, the project has reached a critical milestone with the successful completion of its PDR. This milestone has enabled the validation and freezing of the demonstrator’s baseline configuration and has confirmed the hybrid distributed propulsion system’s level of safety and compatibility with the aircraft. The project is now entering the assembly and integration phase at Daher, with Safran and Airbus’ designs.

In carrying out its responsibilities for installing components and systems, flight testing, global analysis, and airworthiness, Daher has adapted its demonstrator aircraft platform to ensure the integration and compatibility with distributed propulsion at the necessary safety level.

The PDR’s successful completion enables Daher to begin the demonstrator’s assembly phase at Tarbes, France, where the initial components were designed and delivered. The final assembly starts in late 2021, with the first flight scheduled to take place in 2022.

“With this demonstrator, Daher intends to develop the key architectural principles for future hybrid aircraft. The project reaffirms our commitment, as a general aviation manufacturer with our Kodiak & TBM product lines, to more efficient and eco-responsible aviation. This is reflected by our company’s active participation in numerous ambitious collaborative research projects aimed at decarbonizing air traffic,” Pascal Laguerre, Daher’s Chief Technology Officer, explained.

Safran, responsible for EcoPulse’s distributed hybrid-electric propulsion system, has finalized the technical configuration of its six electric thrusters. They will be fitted with 50 kW ENGINeUS electric motors with integrated electronics and patented air cooling and propellers supplied by DUC Hélices. The Safran ENGINeUS motor will be submitted for EASA certification—the same type as granted for a turboshaft engine.

Also validated by Safran are the installation interfaces for the propulsion system’s other components, along with the power management system, the turbogenerator, and the high-voltage wiring that will supply electrical power to the thrusters. The turbogenerator, which performed its first test bench runs in 2018, will soon undergo additional tests.

The next step for Safran would be its delivery of an initial electric thruster to Airbus for wind tunnel and endurance testing to prepare the qualification of the thrusters’ use on EcoPulse’s first flight. “EcoPulse is an ambitious project, and designing hybrid propulsion on this new aircraft architecture is a key skill that Safran is proud to master,” said Stéphane Cueille, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for research and technology and innovation at Safran. “Mobility needs are changing, and the group is responding to them by offering advanced and sustainable technologies that have taken shape with this important milestone reached today,” she added.

Completion of the EcoPulse PDR has enabled Airbus—currently involved in the demonstrator aircraft’s aerodynamic modeling—to start wind tunnel testing for propeller/nacelle assembly this first quarter of 2021. The electric engine, supplied by Safran, will be tested as well. These tests will identify the propeller’s performance characteristics associated with an electric motor and validate the engine cooling process.

In addition to these wind tunnel tests, Airbus can also simulate the nacelle’s aerodynamic behavior. “The EcoPulse demonstrator program, initiated by Corac with the support of the French DGAC civil aviation agency, is an important step in our ambition to decarbonize the aeronautical industry. It will allow us to study how distributed hybrid propulsion could be integrated into the aircraft of tomorrow and significantly reduce their environmental impact,” said Jean-Brice Dumont, Executive Vice President Engineering, Airbus. (Story and photo courtesy of Airbus)