Drives and Controls Magazine
Tests start on 2MW aircraft motor that is ‘twice as powerful’
Published:  10 September, 2021

Wright Electric, a US company developing zero-emission commercial aircraft, has started to test a 2MW electric motor that it plans to use in the 186-passenger Wright 1 all-electric aircraft that it hopes will enter service in 2030 with a range of 800 miles (1,287km). The 2MW motor is twice as powerful as any other aircraft motor to date, and has a specific power of 10kW/kg – said to be twice as high as previous motors.

The motor, which is scalable from 500kW to 4MW, is designed to propel commercial aircraft using ducted fan or propellor systems. Ten of the motors, with a combined power rating of 20MW, will be used to power the planned Wright 1 aircraft, giving it a comparable power to today’s Airbus A320 aircraft. Alternatively, two of the motors could power a 50-seat aircraft comparable to an ATR-42 regional airliner.

“The level of power and weight demonstrated with our new 2MW motor will become the baseline for any new electric aircraft and is a key technology in our megawatt system,” says Wright Electric CEO, Jeff Engler. “Zero-emissions commercial aircraft are the future, and Wright is focused on delivering on the promise.”

The 2MW motor’s 10kW/kg specific power rating will allow it to be used in single-aisle electric and hybrid-electric aircraft with little or no emissions. It is designed to convert the DC output of batteries or fuel cells into propulsive thrust. The motor has an insulation system that allows it to operate at a higher voltage than most other aerospace motors.

Engler sees the 2MW as a key building block towards zero-emission aviation for Boeing and Airbus sized planes, which are responsible for more than 90% of aerospace sector’s carbon footprint.

Wright Electric’s 2MW aviation motor shown with a can of Coca-Cola to give an idea of its size

The motor will now proceed to the next phase of development and testing including integration with an efficient high-frequency inverter developed in-house by Wright, high-altitude-chamber testing, and qualification for flight readiness.

“Wright is excited to begin testing of our 2MW electric powertrain and preparing for flight qualification in the near future,” Engler says.

Wright Electric was founded in 2016 by a team of aerospace engineers, powertrain experts, and battery chemists. The company, which aims to establish a path towards carbon-free aviation, is working with airlines including easyJet and VivaAerobus, and has development contracts with Nasa as well as the US Army, Air Force, and Department of Energy.