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3 December, 2019 - 00:05 By Kate Sweeney

Cranfield to give UK a global lead in commercial electric flights

Cranfield Aerospace Solutions (CAeS) has received Government funding to launch the first commercial passenger flights using electric aircraft.

Project Fresson has received a grant of £9 million to design, manufacture and integrate a hybrid-electric propulsion system into a 9-seat Britten-Norman (B-N) Islander aircraft, which is typically used on short flights such as island-hopping routes. 

The grant is provided through the ATI Programme: a partnership of the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), the Department for Business, Energy & Industry Strategy, and Innovate UK to maintain and grow the UK’s competitive position in civil aerospace design and manufacture.

The Project Fresson team includes UK businesses Rolls-Royce, which will supply the power management system; the Denis Ferranti Group, supplying the electric motors; Delta Motorsport, providing battery packs; WMG (University of Warwick), who will perform battery testing and characterisation, and Britten-Norman, the aircraft OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) providing the baseline aircraft and aircraft data/design support. 

CAeS parent Cranfield University will be researching key technology solutions vital for the 30-month project.

Paul Hutton CAeS CEO, said: “The results of this exciting electric aircraft demonstrator project can be rapidly developed into an EASA/CAA (European Aviation Safety Agency/Civil Aviation Authority) certified modification kit, enabling the UK to lead the way with the first passenger-carrying sub-regional aircraft capable of all-electric flight. 

“The strength of the industrial partners involved in this project, are underpinned by the world-class aerospace/manufacturing research capabilities of Cranfield University. This is going to accelerate our green transport revolution.”

Professor Iain Gray, Cranfield University Director of Aerospace, added: “Cranfield University is recognised around the world for its Aviation Systems Integration capability and is focused around research and development of zero-emission technologies. We are pleased to be a technology partner on Project Fresson which is at the forefront of turning the commercial use of electric aircraft into a reality.”

Following the demonstrator project, CAeS will go on to certify the modification through EASA to obtain a Supplemental Type Certificate. This will then be immediately available in the global market, allowing the current operators of the 400+ B-N Islanders to convert their aircraft reducing operating costs and their carbon footprint.

In follow-on phases of CAeS’s green aircraft strategy the intention is to design and implement a similar modification, this time to a larger existing 19-seat sub-regional aircraft type, continuing with partners to design and build a new 19-seat aircraft. The design of the new aircraft will be optimised for emission-free propulsion, making use of the certified propulsion systems architecture from the earlier phases.

Mark Scully, Head of Technology for Advanced Systems & Propulsion at the ATI, said: “Project Fresson brings together a great partnership to develop innovative technology for a sustainable all-electric air transport solution for isolated islands. The partners’ ultimate goal of delivering the first commercial passenger-carrying all-electric aircraft service in the UK will mark a significant breakthrough for all-electric propulsion.”

The Fresson project supports Rolls-Royce’s commitment to making aviation more sustainable. This electric flight technology demonstrator enables Rolls-Royce to introduce a new concept in aircraft-level power distribution control that optimises all the elements of the power and propulsion system.

Alan Newby, Rolls-Royce, Director, Aerospace Technology & Future Programmes said: “We are excited to be involved in this project, which combines our commitment to support the de-carbonisation of aviation with our ability to solve complex problems with pioneering solutions. Project Fresson is another valuable opportunity for us to remain a leader in delivering the electrification of flight, an important part of our sustainability strategy.”

The ATI Programme is a joint Government-industry investment to maintain and grow the UK’s competitive position in civil aerospace design and manufacture. The programme is delivered through a partnership between the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Innovate UK.

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