Drives and Controls Magazine
Electric plane sets two speed records and performs first tow
Published:  12 April, 2017

Siemens claims to have set two new world speed records for electrically powered aircraft, as well as performing the first tow of a glider by an electric plane. An adapted Extra 330LE aerobatic aircraft reached a top speed of around 337.5km/h over a 3km distance in Germany last month, thus beating the existing record for sub-1,000kg electric aircraft by 13.48km/h. A modified version of the craft, weighing more than 1 tonne, hit a top speed of 342.86 km/h.

The following day, the plane became the world’s first electric aircraft to tow a glider into the sky. The almost silent aerotow hauled a type LS8-neo glider to a height of 600m in 76 seconds.

“This aerotow provides further highly visible evidence of our record-setting motor’s performance capabilities,” says Frank Anton, head of eAircraft at Siemens’ venture capital business, next47. “Just six such propulsion units would be sufficient to power a typical 19-seat hybrid-electric airplane.”

The 50kg electric motor already holds a world record for power-to-weight ratios. It can supply a constant electric output of 260kW – said to be five times more than comparable propulsion systems.

The Extra 330LE is being used as a flying testbed for the new battery-powered propulsion system. The aerobatic plane is said to be ideal for taking the components to their limits, and for testing and enhancing them. Currently, there are no plans to put the electric plane into series production.

Siemens' adapted aerobatic plane last month became the world’s first electric aircraft to tow a glider Photo: Jean-Marie Urlacher

“By 2030, we expect to see the first planes carrying up to 100 passengers and having a range of about 1,000km,” Anton says. Siemens hopes to establish hybrid-electric propulsion systems for aircraft as a new business area.

The company is also contributing its electric propulsion technology to a joint project with Airbus to develop hybrid-electric regional aircraft, based on the record-setting motor.