The Future Of Air Travel? Meet The 150-Seat Wright Electric Airplane

6 months ago by Mark Kane 73

Wright Electric is a startup company that aims for electrification in the sky, to eliminate the biggest cost for airline carriers of today – fuel.

Wright Electric ECO-150

Wright’s goal is to develop a 150-seat all-electric airplane with a 300 mile (nearly 500 km) range that would compete in the 737 style Boeing and Airbus plane market.

Both Boeing and Airbus sold nearly 1,000 of those planes in 2016 – and at around $90 million each, so there is huge potential in electrification.

“These short-haul trips make up 30 percent of all flights, and is a $26 billion market.”

Wright already has a partner in British airline EasyJet, which could ultimately be the first to put such a plane into service.

Two scenarios were outlined by Wright. If the outfitted batteries are energy dense enough, the plane will be all-electric. If not, well there is always a range-extended option like Chevrolet Volt.

“Today Wright Electric gave its first preview to the world at Y Combinator’s Demo Day, where Silicon Valley’s most prestigious startup accelerator puts its new companies in front of investors. Wright Electric announced it’s building a 150-seat plane to disrupt the 737 market. It’s struck a partnership with budget British airline EasyJet, which could put its design in the air. And it even showed off its own electric plane in the parking lot.

“This is one of best hard tech teams I’ve seen,” said Michael Seibel, the head of Y Combinator’s accelerator program. Wright Electric hired a team that had been previously funded by NASA to investigate the potential for electric planes, which its co-founder Jeff Engler says puts the startup years ahead of the competition.”

source: TechCrunch

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73 responses to "The Future Of Air Travel? Meet The 150-Seat Wright Electric Airplane"

  1. WARREN says:

    300 miles would barely make it to Vegas from Southern California. Comparing it to the 737 is not exactly apples to apples, as a modern 737 can go 3000 miles or roughly 10X the distance as this proposed electric plane. Not to mention mach .75 . A Tesla model S could go further than 300 miles. Yet with that great disparity, I would honestly be impressed to see an electric plane go 300 miles! Such is the state of battery technology today, unfortunately.

    1. wineboy says:

      A lot of RC enthusiasts thought the same about lipo powered RC planes and now electric dominates.

      1. Assaf says:

        +1

        And @warren, glass half-full perhaps?

        Even a couple years ago I didn’t dream we would see a company planning a midsize-plus commercial all-electric airplane, so soon.

        To be commercially viable, though, they *will* need to be able to quick-charge it back to (nearly?) full in about an hour, 1.5 hours max. That’s a typical turnaround time for those short-haul flights.

        1. John says:

          In another article I read about these planes, the plan is to swap batteries and charge at the terminal..possibly with solar.

          1. ItsNotAboutTheMoney says:

            Ah, of course, swapping. That would reduce the charging rate challenge.

            1. SJC says:

              They could have jet engines for takeoff and climb then reforming jet fuel for PEM electric.

        2. Leslie Graham says:

          I think you’re missing the point.
          These planes do not emit CO2.
          This is the important factor.
          The rest is detail.

    2. Mark Hovis says:

      1. Mark Hovis says:

        30% market share is well worth pursuing

        1. georgeS says:

          good video Mark H.

          what does Musk mean when he says “the percentage of batteries on the plane needs to be 70%.

          Note also he is saying 400-700 wh/kg. So we have a way to go.

          1. M Hovis says:

            What I find interesting is that all of the major aerospace manufacturers are working on designs now in preparation for 400 wh/kg battery densities which probably won’t show up until 2040s. I am totally on board with transitional hybrid designs like the Boeing SUGAR Volt until the densities are achieved. At the same time, I really like the idea of going after short flights first.

            What I understood Musk’s comments on 70% efficiency of the aircraft itself would come in modernizing designs that have really changed little since the 1940s such as controlling the aircraft through gimbaling the thrust much like a rocket.

            1. Brandon says:

              I’m pretty sure I remember reading some about 400 wh per kg will be possible around 2025. That would make sense why this plane project is expected to bear fruit at the end of the next decade.

            2. Chris Dragon says:

              Never assume there won’t be breatkthrough tech in the next 23 years. The new salt-glass batteries invented by the man who invented lithium ion batteries should have 3 times the energy density of lithium ion, and that would push it well ove4 400Wh/kg.

          2. Ambulator says:

            The 70% appeared to be talking about cell mass to battery pack mass ratio.

            1. georgeS says:

              OK. I thought maybe he meant mass of batteries compared to total mass of airplane.

      2. Scott Franco says:

        That was without a doubt the stupidest thing I have ever heard from Elon Musk. Trying to take off an electric airplane vertically would waste so much power that the effective range of the aircraft would be reduced to nothing.

        There is a solid reason that VTOL aircraft never “took off”. Even with Harrier aircraft, they found out that a short takeoff run is far more power efficient than VTOL. See the British use of “ski jump” ramps for takeoff.

    3. The SunSeeker Duo can exceed 300 miles, today, plus it has climbed higher than the Alps.

      Here is a first flight video

      1. CVVH says:

        But what s that? 2 seats? How fast? That’s a lot different than a 150 seat commercial jet that can also carry baggage and cargo.

  2. Four Electrics says:

    Leaving a margin for safety, temperature, and weather, we’re taking 150 miles. A hydrogen application if any exist.

    1. ItsNotAboutTheMoney says:

      Short flights would need less margin.

      But if that’s the usual Wright, they do turbines, so they’re probably thinking towards an EREV approach anyway.

    2. zzzzzzzzzz says:

      Tu-155 airliner was flying on hydrogen and natural gas.
      Abandoned after collapse of Soviet empire and oil prices.

      http://www.nytimes.com/1988/05/24/science/clean-hydrogen-beckons-aviation-engineers.html?pagewanted=all

  3. bjrosen says:

    300 miles makes no sense for a commercial airliner. The shortest flight for commercial airliners, Boston to New York, is 200 miles and there is no way that you would use an airplane that only has a 100 miles of margin. What would happen if there is a holding pattern? Even a Cessna has 800 miles of range. It’s one thing for a Tesla to run out of juice, the only consequence is that you are stranded at the side of the road until a tow truck picks you up, it’s very different for a airplane.

    1. ItsNotAboutTheMoney says:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_busiest_passenger_air_routes

      Lots of busy routes under 300 miles.
      Given flight times of only 1 15 minutes those short routes are highly unlikely to suffer an unexpected long hold.

      But to be honest, I think the bigger issue would relate to charging. Commercial airline turnaround times are pretty short now, so they’d probably want 2C charging and that’d be a lot of power.

      1. zzzzzzzzzz says:

        You still need at least an hour of reserve. You can’t land airliner in a corn field if you need to divert to different airport for whatever reasons, likely or not likely.

        1. Scott Franco says:

          Correct answer.

          1. Not exactly correct. Actually, ‘It Depends’, is more correct, as 1 hour might be more than needed, or less, depending on the weather!

            45 minutes flight time fuel reserve on a good day (In VFR Conditions), is a legal amount, and in conditions were there might be issues (IFR weather, with low clouds that might be down below ‘Minimums’), the requirements are: Fuel to fly to your destination, complete a missed approach, then fly to an Alternate Airport (Which MUST BE above ‘Minimums’), fly a successful approach and landing, and another 45 minutes flight time (To allow for ‘Holds’, etc.)

            Both are simply logical, safe requirements, and the 1st is of course, less extra fuel or energy than the 2nd!

            As there have been no Commercial Electric Aircraft even under construction yet, no Regulations have even been considered for them, to either be simply mentioned and included under current Regs, or to have some more or less stringent Regs for them.

            SunSeeker Duo type aircraft, like this first flight shows, might lead to new Regs.

            While the Duo has not yet flown accros oceans, it seems closer to personal flight practicality, than the Globe Circling Solar Impulse –

  4. David Murray says:

    I have to admit the range seems a bit disappointing. If it can only fly half that distance due to regulation, then that’s only 150 miles. Might be okay for regional travel. But I have a hard time believing it could take 30% of airline business. Maybe in the next 10 years those solid state batteries will be available?

    1. ItsNotAboutTheMoney says:

      Right, but not many really short flights for commercial airliners.

      Manchester, UK to Dublin, Ireland is 166 miles.

      They do note that it’d be hybrid if battery density doesn’t increase, but to be honest, I think it’d be harder to be hybrid.

      Obviously wish them success, however unlikely. I don’t really see the space for them given that other manufacturers have electrification programs.

      1. Well, turbine powered electric generators can be smaller than Diesel Powered Generators, because of the very high RPMs, and Airbus have a Turbine Electric Hybrid in their plans, as well.

        E-Thrust program, with Airbus & Rolls Royce:

  5. Kim Jorgensen says:

    Don’t forget they are required to allow for 10% extra range by law, and then another 10% to divert to a secondary airport in case of weather, run-way incidents etc. Not much range left, it’s still interesting though and one day it will come.

    1. Kim, there is no % requirement, it is a direct flight time spec:

      “45 minutes flight time fuel reserve on a good day (In VFR Conditions), is a legal amount, and in conditions were there might be issues (IFR weather, with low clouds that might be down below ‘Minimums’), the requirements are: Fuel to fly to your destination, complete a missed approach, then fly to an Alternate Airport (Which MUST BE above ‘Minimums’), fly a successful approach and landing, and another 45 minutes flight time (To allow for ‘Holds’, etc.)”, as I listed above.

  6. OCRyan says:

    While fuel cell makes no sense in consumer auto, this is an area that seems perfect for the technology. Hydrogen fueling stations are expensive, but there are only 37 class B airports in the United States. Airplanes have very limited fueling locations. Energy density is already there. In an industry where weight == money, seems like it may be a good fit.

    1. zzzzzzzzzz says:

      Fuel cells make no sense for turbojets replacement. You don’t need much electricity at turbojet speeds, propellers are becoming inefficient with speed increase.

      Fuel cells may make sense for smaller commercial aviation or ground transport though.

  7. Ken Sherman says:

    According to WorldWatch Institute, as much as 25% of its fuel is used during takeoff for a short trip in a modern jet aircraft. Why not power the motors from a ground source and/or use a catapult for takeoff? Then you add to the range, shorten takeoff room and add safety. Takeoffs and landings are the highest risk areas of aviation.

    1. Delta says:

      Exactly. Power the plane using nductive charging all along the runway into and from the terminals. Then along flight corridor could even blast microwave energy from ground stations directly to plane. Given the twenty years it takes to design and build and certify a plane, they are right to start now. The battery densities will be there when the plane is ready to fly.

      1. georgeS says:

        Honeywell has already worked on this. Google “electric Green Taxi system”

        they ran the APU to supply the electricity. It did reduce total fuel consumption by a large amount even so.

        Unfortunately the project was cancelled. A work associate of mine was lead engineer on the project.

        1. Safran & Honeywell system used 2 main gear drive systems:

          Wheel Tug uses single Nos Wheel system that can be added in the shop.

          Short video:
          https://youtu.be/tvHwaFwQ_LY

          Long video:
          https://youtu.be/vVB0m5MWKTw

          The Honeywell design is a bit more of a built in system, not as flexible as the Wheel Tug System, which can be installed, or removed in the field.

          Wheel Tug has interesting financing: cost is a portion of fuel savings per month, almost like a lease value proposition!

      2. Scott Franco says:

        That technology already exists. Its how aircraft are launched off a carrier deck.

        Decidedly low tech.

        1. Traditionally, Aircraft Carriers used Steam Powered Catapults, but there is talk and testing of Electro-Magnetic Catapults, already. The pitch is both: More Powerful, and, More Controllable.

          For Airliners, both structures would need stronger nose wheel attach points for a single point Cat, or that plus stronger main gear structure fore a main gear Cat or Tri Gear Cat!

          Then, passengers would need to be briefed, “put your head firmly against your headrest to avoid whiplash!”

          Normal takeoff runs in Airliners are 20-30 seconds to lift off, so taking that even smoothly down to 10-15 seconds would double the acceleration, or ‘G’ forces! Taking it to 5-7.5 seconds, would doule the ‘G’ forces again!

          Unlike Fighter Pilots, there is no real ‘Selection Process’ for Airline Passengers, so that G Force thing would be a challenge to deal with!

          1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

            There’s no need to subject the passengers to greater G force during takeoff. The suggestion here is to use energy provided from the ground, either mechanical force or magnetic fields, to push the airplane up to flight speed, instead of the plane having to burn its fuel to do that.

        2. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

          Correct me if I’m wrong, but military aircraft capable of catapult launch have to be built with a more robust airframe to withstand the stress of catapult launch. And even then, the risk of accident is still rather higher than with a normal takeoff where all power is provided by the plane itself.

          I don’t see civilian airliners being launched via catapult. But the idea of a linear accelerator being used to assist in acceleration during takeoff… now that’s an interesting concept, and I can easily see it becoming reality in the future. (For those who are thinking “a linear accelerator is a type of catapult”, I reply: Yes, but unlike a mechanical catapult, no direct mechanical connection to the plane would be required.)

    2. Doggydogworld says:

      25% for takeoff? I’d like to see that source.

      25% for takeoff AND climb makes sense.

  8. Ken Sherman says:

    From the same source.
    http://www.worldwatch.org/planes-utilize-most-fuel-during-takeoff

    “About 45 percent of all flights in the European Union cover less than 500 kilometers.”

  9. TimE says:

    Why bother if HyperLoop is looking like an option? 20 years out for this, I would hope HyperLoop is able to become reality by then if not significantly sooner, eliminating much of the need for air travel and getting people from point a to b much faster than air.

    1. DJ says:

      Because it’s not an option, or not a realistic option.

    2. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Homer Simpson says:

      Hyperloop is a pipe dream.

      1. ItsNotAboutTheMoney says:

        I saw what you did there … and I laughed.

    3. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      Because it hasn’t been shown that Hyperloop can be made practical, i.e. profitable. Altho it looks like a great idea on paper, it may never be practical. And even if it is, you can only travel via Hyperloop where they’ve built the tube systems. Given the costs involved, it seems rather unlikely we’ll ever see Hyperloop go to the sorts of small towns and suburbs served today by small airports.

  10. DJ says:

    At Southern California electricity prices Jet fuel is cheaper!

    But hey at least it can fly me from LAX to Bakersfield…

  11. ClarksonCote says:

    How about just enough battery so all taxi movement can be done on battery power? That would be a nice savings in fuel in the most congested areas population-wise.

    1. ClarksonCote says:

      Oh, and convert all the support vehicles that tow planes and baggage carts to electric as well.

      1. EV Conversion Company, CANEV has done quite a few Airport Support Equipment Vehicles as EV’s! http://www.canev.com

    2. Terawatt says:

      There’s been much interest in this already and i think it’ll happen in the near term. Both propellers and especially jets are horribly inefficient on the ground, and the possibility of reversing and thus getting rid of the pull vehicles is another boon to airlines.

      It’ll be a long time before all-electric makes sense. Synthetic biofuel may possibly be a decent option in the interim (not sure how they are with respect to anything but CO2 tho).

      1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        Aviation fuel has a very high energy to weight ratio; batteries have a very low energy to weight ratio.

        Still, I’d love to see a study of how much weight of fuel is used for taxing on the ground vs. how much weight of batteries would be required to replace that.

        1. ClarksonCote says:

          If you want to be real fancy, how about a tiny battery that only acts as a buffer, and some induction based charging on the taxiways. More infrastructure investment needed at airports, but it nearly eliminates the plane’s weight considerations/concerns.

    3. yoyodyn says:

      How about a catapult or electric tow vehicle to assist with take-off as well?

  12. zzzzzzzzzz says:

    The story sound like a hoax or student project.
    737 burns some 5000 lb per hour of cruise. 3000 lb for ascent, 8000 lb reserve for diversion. For example:
    LAX-SFO,
    http://fuelplanner.com/index.php
    boeing 737-900 fuel planner
    SFO to LAX SFO-LAX (293 NM)

    total fuel: 11908 pounds
    Fuel Time
    Fuel Usage 5563 01:05
    Reserve Fuel 6345 01:15
    Fuel on Board 11908 02:20
    SFO to LAX
    All weights in POUNDS

    Who on Earth would want to carry 11,908 lb jet fuel equivalent in Li Ion batteries in the AIR? You would better carry passengers and cargo instead.

    1. SparkEV says:

      Jet engine is less efficient than electric motor by factor of 3 or more. You also don’t have to travel as fast, saving fuel. Total might end up being 1/10 or less. Doing 300 MPH for 300 miles travel (1 hour) may need far less jet fuel equivalent.

      Assuming gasoline equivalent (33.7 kWh/gal, 6.2 lb/gal) and only 1000 lb needed, that will be about 5500 kWh. At 300 Wh/kg, battery will weight 18,000 kg, or 40,000 lb (4X jet fuel weight). At 700 Wh/kg, it’ll less than 2X jet fuel weight.

      1. zzzzzzzzzz says:

        Reducing speed means less flights and more money for wages, depreciation and aircraft rent.
        If you go to their site, they actually tried to do back of the napkin level calculations on feasibility. Conclusion – PIPE DREAM so far, even stretching numbers beyond reasonable.
        https://weflywright.com/blog/

        “The gist seems to be that a commercial plane is far away, but a demonstrator, similar in principle to Solar Impulse, might be doable. A demonstrator would be useful because we’d learn a ton about airframes, batteries, etc.
        Here’s why we think it could work:
        Energy available:
        A 737-800 has a max weight of 150,000 lbs. Empty weight is 75,000 lbs. We need 25,000 lbs for people / bags. This leaves 50,000 lbs for batteries.
        50,000 lbs of batteries at 200 wh/kg is 4.5 MWh of energy.
        Energy needed:
        A 737-800 needs about 30 MW of power for initial climb and 11MW for cruise, at normal speed.
        If we only have 4.5 MWh of energy, we’d quickly use up all our energy at takeoff and never get anywhere.
        But if we’re willing to slow down the plane a ton, we can potentially do an entire 200 mile flight with 6 MWh (cell AQ4), which isn’t too far off from the 4.5 MWh that we have.We could potentially get there if we optimize the airframe and find / design better batteries.
        It’s important to note that this doesn’t factor in the “fuel” reserves that the FAA requires. Adding in FAA reserves means another 5+ MWh of energy, which immediately takes the math from a stretch to a pipe dream.”

        1. SparkEV says:

          Instead of 200 Wh/kg, if there’s battery with 700 Wh/kg, it’s not a pipe dream since it will account for reserve. “Pipe dream” is only with regard to when the battery will reach better density.

          As I mention below, other techniques can be used to assist, such as catapult to bring it up to speed as well as assist in initial climb.

          As for slower, less money, etc. that’s to be seen. This kind of plane could serve purpose other than direct replacement of one of the most popular plane today. For example, inter-city turbo props are far less speedy, and range of only about 200 miles is needed.

          1. A Google search can confirm, but as I remember, energy use goes up by the square as speed doubles.

            So, Energy = ‘X’ at 100 Mph, but to go 200 Mph, Energy = 4X. At 400 Mph, energy now = 16X!

          2. zzzzzzzzzz says:

            “battery with 700 Wh/kg” suitable for such application is still pipe dream now.
            Even if it will appear some decades later, you may check feasibility of smaller regional propeller plane replacement for short distance routes, not turbo jets like 737.

            You have 2 fundamental breakthroughs to overcome here – invent fantasy batteries and invent fantasy propulsion system that would make electricity suitable energy source at turbojet speeds. It is not impossible and interesting to dream about, but just that.

  13. Kdawg says:

    What is the most fuel intensive portion of flying? Is it the takeoff? Maybe a hybrid system using the batteries for takeoff, and supplemental power when needed, is the way to go.. at least at the start.

    1. Kdawg says:

      Also, could the air-brakes be used to turn generators to recharge the batteries when landing?

    2. SparkEV says:

      Forget regen. How about steam catapult like they have on aircraft carriers? It can even be at an angle so that launch will put it in correct ascent angle.

      While I’d love to have it accelerate from 0-180 MPH in 2 seconds like the carrier jet launches, something easier will be possible, such as 0-300 MPH in 10 seconds (about 1g)

    3. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      What is the most fuel intensive portion of flying? Is it the takeoff?

      Takeoff and climb to cruising altitude, yes.

      “Maybe a hybrid system using the batteries for takeoff, and supplemental power when needed, is the way to go.. at least at the start.”

      Actually, better funded studies and/or R&D projects for hybrid aircraft, such as the SUGAR Volt concept, use jet propulsion for takeoffs and landings, when maximum power is needed, and electric propulsion for cruising at altitude. As I recall, they claim up to 70-75% reduction in fuel use.

      https://phys.org/news/2012-12-sugar-volt-boeing-vision-hybrid.html

  14. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

    Electric propulsion aircraft have an inherent competitive disadvantage as compared to jet aircraft; limited speed and range. Commercial jets travel at about .9 Mach, whereas electric aircraft are limited to about .7 Mach. It’s an interesting idea that short-range electric aircraft could compete for short commercial flights, of 300 miles or less. But claiming that would make them competitive with, say, a 737, is certainly overstating the case. Let’s be clear: This is aiming at a niche market. A substantial niche market to be sure, but the 737 can be used for either short or long flights, whereas an electric aircraft could only be used for short ones.

    1. Last night work news: A specific case use loading was done on the new ‘C Series’ Bombardier Jet, and it was flown from London City Center Airport (Docklands), to New York JFK Airport!

      As to this Electric Airliner idea, designing and building an Electric Twin Otter could be doable within 5 years, far easier!

  15. Brave Lil Toaster says:

    “If the outfitted batteries are energy dense enough”

    *If*? These guys say they have a company or even a product to sell, and they’re still asking questions like this?

    They’re toast. Forget it. They’re dreamers without a clue. Boeing will have the technology to do what they *want* to do before they do, and Boeing already knows how to build airplanes.

    1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      Right, this is just an R&D company. It’s misleading to the point of being simply untrue to claim “Wright Electric announced it’s building a 150-seat plane to disrupt the 737 market”.

      The text seen embedded in the linked video above: “Wright Electric plans for electric airlines in 20 years” is a better indicator of how far this company is from actually building a commercial product.

      The main problem, of course, is that any such company will be mostly spinning their wheels while waiting around for much higher density, yet affordable, batteries to be developed.

      It makes sense for Boeing or Airbus to have a long-term research project working on this. It also makes sense for Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works to be working on a long-term project like this. But IMHO it makes absolutely no sense for anybody to invest in a startup company that has no realistic prospects for making money in the next 10 years.

  16. JIMJFOX says:

    Reminds me of all the discoveries in gene tech, leading to ‘wonder drugs’ somewhere down the yellow-brick road.

    Short-haul routes still frequently use turbo fan engines in small airframes carrying at absolute max 80 [?] passengers. Seems most likely this will be a ‘bottom-up’ development from 10-passenger craft where [assisted?] take-off weight is minimal & cruise altitude/speed limited.

    Then one of the worst factors is eliminated- noise!

  17. CVVH says:

    Competition is great and I wish them well, but they will be going up against Boeing and Airbus which already have the mfg experience and experience in what it takes to certify a large commercial jet. And both of them are actively studying this technology as well.

    I also think fuel prices will continue to be relatively cheap and airframes will continue to reduce in weight, engines increase in efficiency, and airframe designs will improve in efficiency as well (such as blended wing body designs). Making electric propulsion challenging from a cost/benefit.