Airbus Eco-Flyer steals the show at Bristol innovation showcase

A two-seater electric aircraft that can fly across a city and is smaller than the Airbus E-Fan was the talk of the town at Venturefest Bristol and Bath.

The Bristol Eco-Flyer project has been led by graduates and apprentices at the Airbus plant in Filton, near Bristol, and produces no carbon emissions. Even though the E-Fan was the bigger of the two models on display - and already in the public domain - it was the Eco-Flyer, smaller and more hidden, that seemed to generate the most interest.

The team utilised the same tools normally used for large passenger aircraft design, but the truss structure of the fuselage is held together by 3D-printed titanium nodes and the plane is equipped with lithium polymer batteries to ensure its full eco-lifecycle.

“The full aircraft eco-lifecycle includes anything from design, production and use to end-of-life,” an Airbus representative said.

The Bristol Eco-Flyer has a total motor power of 48kW and an energy target of 22kWh. The maximum take-off weight for the electric aircraft is 750kg, but the engineers are investigating room temperature carbon-fibre resin curing, as well as use of natural fibres in place of carbon for non-load bearing sections to see how it might affect the weight.

Europe appears to be leading the change for electric aircraft propulsion and such examples as the Eco-Flyer bring us closer to experimental planes covered in solar cells. Airbus Group's E-Fan first flew in prototype form in March 2014, kickstarting a revolution in aircraft propulsion. More recently, we have seen the Swiss Solar Impulse plane's attempt to circumnavigate the globe.  

The Eco-Flyer team consisted mainly of Airbus engineers on the graduate or apprenticeship schemes and was supported by engineering experts with skills and expertise in aerospace stress, aerodynamics and structural design engineering, as well as light aircraft design and manufacture and motorsport.

The project was launched earlier this year to coincide with the city of Bristol’s year as European Green Capital, but the plane was officially presented yesterday at Venturefest Bristol and Bath.

The event saw over a thousand delegates and exhibitors attend, including Col Needham, founder and CEO of IMDb and Scott Wilcox, director of technology for SXSW, with focus on high-tech, advanced engineering, digital and creative technology.

David Maher Roberts, digital sector specialist for Invest Bristol and Bath, said: “The event attracted 60 investors from the UK and abroad, highlighting the significance of the opportunities available here a year on from the region being named as the only fast-growing globally significant tech cluster in a report by McKinsey.”

The Bristol and Bath area has recently been labelled the largest digital cluster in the UK outside of London by a Tech Nation report and is considered an innovation hotspot internationally. Yesterday, Karin Smyth, the new Labour MP for Bristol South, called for a “western powerhouse”, urging the government to invest more in the area.

Airbus E-Fan infographic

Airbus e-Fan infographic  

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