BAE Systems joins the ship with plans to build new electric aircraft

BAE Systems has partnered with a Swedish electric transportation start-up to get back in the passenger aircraft manufacturing business.

BAE, which built the Avro RJX/BAE 146 civilian aircraft in Britain, has plans to build batteries that will power propellers on the ES-30 regional aircraft. Heart Aerospace is developing it.

The aircraft will be powered by four electric motors and can carry 30 passengers. It is approximately the distance between Heathrow (west London) and East Midlands (near Derby) or Cardiff.

Heart is also considering a range-extended hybrid, which would add an additional 125 miles to the flight path. This could allow it to fly from Heathrow directly to Brussels. It claims a hybrid range that covers 500 miles if it reduces passengers. This could take the aircraft from Heathrow and Frankfurt.

The secret weapon of BAE is its electric battery production. Its Endicott facility, located in upstate New York, is a specialist for batteries for electric or hybrid buses. The systems are used on over 12,000 vehicles around the world.

It is still unclear whether electric battery systems will have an impact on commercial aviation. The stored energy in jet fuel is more than 50 times that of batteries, so aircraft require a lot of high-energy batteries. According to calculations, a Boeing 737 with 180 seats could fly on current-generation electric batteries for about one hour. It would have to remove all cargo and seat space and then fill the battery compartment.

If companies like BAE can make lightweight, energy-dense batteries, then electric propulsion could be used in small regional aircraft with fewer seats.

Heart hopes to have a proof-of-concept next year, and flight trials in 2026. It also plans to be in service in 2028. The airline operator Air Canada has equity backing and there are putative orders for over 400 aircraft.

These aircraft are called “eCTOL” by the industry, which stands for electric conventional takeoff and landing. This is in contrast to eVTOLs (electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft that can only carry a few passengers). They are also known as flying taxis and can be used as replacements to helicopters.

Ehtisham SIDDIQUI, vice-president of BAE’s controls and Avionics, stated that the batteries are “industry-leading” and were based on decades of experience in delivering technology and systems for sustainable transportation.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, BAE’s civil aerospace program was cancelled. Although the last 380 Avro RJs were delivered in 2003, dozens of them are still in use worldwide.

Mike Turner, then the company’s chief executive, directed the sale of BAE’s 20% stake in EADS. This was the precursor to Airbus, which is the largest aircraft manufacturer in the world. BAE bought its stake in EADS for PS1.85billion. Airbus’ 20 percent stake would now be worth £17billion.

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