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Detachable motorcycle offers extra power to electric aircraft

30 September 2017

Designs for a flying motorcycle could revolutionise electric aircraft – effectively converting an all-electric aircraft to a hybrid electric aircraft.

Detachable motorcycle (Credit: University of Nottingham)

Research Fellow Richard Glassock’s futuristic design sees a detachable motorcycle acting as an additional power source for an electric aircraft – extending the length of time it can fly. 

The RExLite and RExMoto enablers will be unveiled at the International Conference on Innovation in European Aeronautics Research in Warsaw.  

All-electric aircraft have seen a boom in recent years as they offer substantial reductions in running costs as well as lower CO2, NOx emissions and noise levels. However, flight time on batteries is limited and as a result, the provision of sufficient energy for realistic flight utility remains problematic.

Richard’s designs use conventionally fuelled, combustion engine driven, electrical generators to provide energy at peak efficiency with minimum emissions, effectively converting an all-electric aircraft to a hybrid electric aircraft.

The designs have the potential to appeal to private aircraft owners who would be able to fly their planes for longer, reducing emissions and fuel costs, and then use the detachable motorcycle to continue their journey after landing. Further research could see the concepts be adapted for more commercial use.

Speaking about the new concept, Richard, who specialises in hybrid propulsion systems for aircraft at the Institute for Aerospace Technology (IAT) said: “As aircraft of the future adopt more electrical systems, we need engineering solutions to overcome current limitations. With RexLite and RExMoto, leisure craft will be able to fly much further for much longer, offering pilots and owners of private two-seater or four-seater aircraft real benefits when commuting. 

“The benefits also extend to pilot training as more electric aircraft will lower running costs, fuel burn and achieve an appreciable reduction in noise levels - most notably at suburban airports. As airports are gradually hemmed in by the suburban sprawl, the use of the hybrid range extenders may make evening and night training flights of electric aircraft more acceptable.”

Professor Herve Morvan, Director of IAT said: “We are now living through exciting times in the aerospace industry, probably the most exciting times in two generations, as electrification offers a radical departure in propulsion and aircraft design, and we are delighted to contribute and demonstrate the research being done here. Richard’s project on Range Extenders is one example of the preliminary work we are carrying out in this area.  

“This builds on the University’s commitment to six Beacons of Excellence which were set out earlier this year as well as IAT’s agenda on advanced propulsion. The Propulsion Futures beacon focuses on accelerating the IAT aircraft propulsion agenda and aims to develop more electric technology for medium- to long-haul flights. This is to help tackle performance, environmental and noise challenges, encapsulated in the ACARE Flightpath 2050 targets, in collaboration with leading stakeholders from government and industry.”

RExLite extends range

RExLite is a self-contained 40kW electrical generation power plant that can be fitted to a broad range of electric aircraft. It provides up to three hours extra endurance through conventional combustion of hydrocarbon fuel. Weighing around 60kg, RExLite can be easily installed and resembles a ‘plug and play’ modular power pack. Equipped with retractable jockey wheels, it is easy to manoeuvre and comes with a powered jack so it can be positioned under a fuselage or wing. 

RExLite can increase the range and endurance of small two-seater all-electric aircraft, placing them on a par with conventional combustion engine aircraft in cross-country range. The extra endurance and redundancy will allow comparable flight times and can eliminate the need to recharge the battery. As it is light and compact, multiple units of RExLite can be carried on board larger aircraft.

RExMoto: A ground transport solution 

RExMoto is a modular 50kW electrical generation power plant that can be fitted to electric aircraft and provides two to three hours extra endurance through conventional combustion of hydrocarbon fuel. Designed as a conventional scooter or motorcycle, RExMoto can take to the road, functioning as a mode of transport to and from the airport. The engine, generator, chassis and drive structure have a novel layout and the whole unit weighs no more than 125kg. Retractable wheels ensure that RExMoto can fit conveniently beneath the aircraft’s fuselage or under a wing while minimising drag in flight mode.


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