The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has announced a research partnership with GE Aviation to launch a new hybrid electric technology test vehicle program. Ground and flight tests of the hybrid electric propulsion system in the megawatt (MW) class are planned to be carried out by the mid-2020s.
Flight testing of the hybrid electric technology will be conducted on a modified Saab 340B test aircraft and powered by GE's CT7-9B turboshaft engines.
As part of the Electric Driveline Flight Test (EPFD) project, NASA will fund GE Aviation and its partners a total of $260 million over five years to accelerate the use of hybrid electric flight technologies in commercial aviation. After years of developing parts for the engines, generators and power converters of hybrid electric systems, GE will systematically mature an integrated hybrid electric powertrain for single-aisle aircraft to demonstrate flight readiness.
“We are delighted to have the opportunity to collaborate with NASA to take hybrid electric aircraft engines out of our test labs and fly them through the skies and deliver more sustainable technology solutions to commercial aviation as quickly as possible,” said Mohamed Ali, Vice President of Engineering, GE Aviation. ”
Hybrid electric propulsion technologies that save fuel and optimize engine performance are central to GE's commitment to contributing to creating a more sustainable future for aviation. While GE Aviation aims to achieve net zero emissions for its products by 2050, the hybrid electric motors developed will help achieve this goal. Hybrid electric technologies are highly compatible with Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) and hydrogen, as well as advanced engine architectures such as open fan and new advanced engine core designs.
"NASA and its partners will accelerate the transition of EAP (Electric Aircraft Propulsion) technologies to commercial products and act as a catalyst for economic growth," said Robert Pearce, director of the Aeronautical Research Mission Directorate at NASA's Washington Headquarters. “With the integration of these new alternative propulsion and energy technologies into the fleet, we hope to significantly improve the economic and environmental performance of subsonic transport.”
GE, in collaboration with NASA in the EPFD program, will also provide guidance and data to set standards, certification and regulatory requirements for hybrid electric motors.
The EPFD contract builds on GE Aviation's extensive experience in hybrid electrical systems and electric power generation, the extensive research and flight component development capabilities at GE Research and GE Power. GE's most important milestones are listed below:
2009: Participation in Boeing Subsonic Ultra Green Aircraft Research (SUGAR) research. NASA had requested the identification of aviation technologies that would reduce emissions and fuel consumption for future aircraft after 2030. The team evaluated hybrid electric propulsion systems.
2013: Inauguration of the EPIS Center (Electrical Power Integrated Systems Center) in Dayton, Ohio, focused on the development and testing of electrical power components and systems for aircraft.
2015: Successfully received 110 MW of electrical power from the F1 engine in a ground-level test cell. Then, in 2016, a demonstration of MW power intake was made at altitude conditions that represent flight.
2016: An electrical machine consisting of an MW class motor/generator was introduced at the test stand, which supplies electrical power to a propeller with a diameter of 3 meters 35 cm.
2019: Demonstration of an MW class engine/generator at 36 feet altitude conditions at NASA's Electric Aircraft Testbed (NEAT) facility in northern Ohio. GE considers it to be the world's first power-intensive, MW- and kilovolt-class electric machine tested in flight-like conditions.