‘Blue skies’ research boosts electric-powered aviation
A project managed by Cranfield University to advance electric aviation has achieved a significant milestone with what is thought to be the first ever flight by a British designed and built all-electric conventional aeroplane.
After taxi tests and low hops, the single seat Sherwood eKub made its first flight of 10 minutes and then a second flight later in the day of 22 minutes from Little Snoring airfield in Norfolk.
The flights were piloted by Dr Guy Gratton, Associate Professor of Aviation and the Environment at Cranfield University and an Associate Fellow of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, who is also programme manager for the Enabling Aircraft Electrification (EnabEl) project.
Dr Gratton said: “The aeroplane flew very much as predicted from our analysis and ground tests; this is a new way of flying, and we’re at the start of a steep learning curve on electric flight.
“The support from everybody on the team, as well as colleagues, funders and authorities has been fantastic in making this possible. As a test pilot, an aeronautical engineer, and as a researcher, learning all about this new class of aeroplane is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done.”
Paul Hendry Smith, managing director of The Light Aircraft Company (TLAC), which built the eKub and from whose Little Snoring site the aeroplane was test flown, said: “This is clearly a milestone in electrically powered flight and we are delighted to be at the cutting edge.”
The eKub is a British designed and built all-electric microlight aeroplane and has been developed by a consortium of Cranfield University, TLAC, Flylight Airsports and CDO².
Funded by consortium partners and UK Research and Innovation as part of the Future Flight Challenge initiative, the eKub is part of the broader EnabEl project focused on delivering safe, viable, and environmentally-efficient aeroplanes.
Dr Thomas Delaney, project electrical engineer and Cranfield Research Fellow, said: “One of the key outcomes of the project so far is the work that has been undertaken in the background to facilitate the development and operation of all-electric aircraft.
“The eKub has been developed as a learning platform so that the project outcomes can now directly advise microlight builders and aviation regulators on both design best practice and new certification standards for the new era of electrified flight.”
EnabEl is building two all-electric aeroplanes and the eKub flights will be followed by testing of a larger two-seat electric Skyranger Nynja Aircraft being built at Flylight Airsports' base of Sywell Aerodrome in Northamptonshire.
Cranfield is the academic and research partner for the EnabEl consortium, one of nine projects that researchers from the university are taking part in which were announced as winners of UKRI’s FFC last year.
Along with consortium partners, EnabEl is also being supported by the Civil Aviation Authority and the British Microlight Aircraft Association.
Cranfield University, which has committed to its own target of net zero carbon emissions by 2030, has a long-standing focus on aviation and the environment.
It became a member of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science in 2020 and has hosted its FAAM Airborne Laboratory since 2007.
• Photograph credit: The EnabEl consortium