Electric plane viability

As an accomplished engineer and long-time AIAA member, I was disappointed to say the least, when I read July/August’s Aerospace America cover article, “Fly the Electric Skies.” The article dreamily speculates that battery/electric propulsion is the wave of the future without any supporting evidence. It has no technical content whatsoever, yet the subject screams for it.

First of all, let me say that I am an electric skeptic. There are huge problems in competing with hydrocarbon energy in every sector of energy use. Aerospace is perhaps the most difficult discipline for electric because of the tremendous importance of weight. But I would be glad to read an article that presents the real issues and provides evidence for any reasonable alternatives.

For example, this article could have discussed the weight challenge — where do batteries stand compared to current fuels in energy-to-weight comparisons? What threshold do they need to achieve to create a viable product? There are other demands, as well, that aren’t even discussed in the article. The high pressure produced by gas turbines powers airliner Environmental Control Systems — how will electric aircraft cool/heat the cabin, and how does the added weight affect the concept viability? Hydraulics are used for heavy lifting like landing gear and flaps — is there an electric alternative that doesn’t introduce unacceptable weight penalties? The airport economics are important, as well. The hub-and-spoke model didn’t just develop because of special interest influences — there are real economic benefits to that approach, as there are economic issues with a more distributed regional system. Delving into this topic quantitatively, instead of presenting only qualitative inconvenience issues with hub-and-spoke, would be extremely informative to all of us. The whole article seems to lack objectivity, and just as importantly, any meat.

I realize that Aerospace America is not an AIAA journal. But that doesn’t mean it should contain only the fantasies and whims of someone who has a vested interest in seeing them funded.

Torger J. Anderson

AIAA associate fellow

Alexandria, Virginia


Electric plane viability