The Airbus E-Fan

One of the very first guest posts on Think Defence was from Ace Rimmer in 2009 on the subject of reducing dependence on oil based fuels.

To future proof our defence capability we must significantly reduce our dependence on oil and start looking for alternatives, this may simply mean more time in the aircraft simulator and less time in the jet-trainer

Read more here

Several years later it is clear that synthetic environment training systems have both matured immeasurably and seen a huge increase in use.

The Airbus E-Fan demonstrator is designed to showcase and develop another concept, alternative energy.

I think this is an important milestone and a significant achievement by Airbus.

One can certainly see basic flight training in the none too distant future being carried out in rechargeable aircraft.

Read more at the E-Fan media portal (loads of images, videos and detailed brochures)




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May 27, 2014 8:00 pm

Looks good, could a single seat hybrid version using a small twin lightweight diesel generator and less batteries keep the efans going several hours – a bit like a flying opel ampera?

May 27, 2014 8:24 pm


You maybe thinking along the lines of the da36 e-star 2 development by eads, Siemens and diamond aircraft. Noise footprints around airports is a big big issues if you want to put aircraft into city airport locations 24/7.

Brian Black
Brian Black
May 27, 2014 11:33 pm

Aside from the idea of going all-electric, placing engines in the main fuselage and using fans could be less draggy than hanging engines off wings with a prop.

Fan units might potentially be easier to make adjustable for STOL application than a traditional engine and propeller. And cabling should be cheaper and require less maintenance than mechanical drive shafts, bearings, mounts, and gearboxes.

Pete Arundel
Pete Arundel
May 28, 2014 6:32 am

Cover the whole thing with solar cells for a little more endurance?

James Bolivar DiGriz
James Bolivar DiGriz
May 28, 2014 12:13 pm

Well I am very sceptical that electric aircraft will have any real impact in the next few decades.

Fossil fuels have a huge advantage in that they have much higher energy density* so they take up a lot less weight and volume in the vehicle. This is why all-electric vehicles have such a short endurance despite having batteries that weigh more and take up more volume than an equivalent fuel tank. Also the batteries are expensive to make.

So I don’t see that an all-electric aircraft will be competitive with a conventional one any time soon, except in some very niche application.

* This can be measured as megajoules/cubic metre or as megajoules/kilogramme. They are not the same and do not even have to be close to one another. The highest rating in of energy per kilo is liquid hydrogen but this has such a low density that hydrocarbon fuels have much higher figures fro energy per cubic metre.

Arundel, Basically solar cells are a very poor way of getting electricity. The total amount of sunlight energy that reaches the earth is huge, but this has to be divided by large surface area. So the energy per square metre is not that great and then the solar cells do not convert anything like all of this to electricity, I think that anything more than 20% is not easy to achieve.

Also solar cells (and the associated electronics) would add weight to the plane, thus eating away at any gain.

Finally, the amount of sunlight per square metre depends upon the angle of the surface, highest at the Equator and lowest at the poles. A plane that is moving about will have a good angle at one moment and a much worse one the next.

May 28, 2014 1:07 pm

JBDG – I agree the energy density issue is a problem. However there is no doubt fossil fuel is a limited resource and not likely to be cheap and plentiful for many more years. As I see it there are two important things to do:

1. Use less energy. Not as straight-forward as it might seem as my definition includes raw material extraction, manufacturing and transport, usage and disposal/recycling at end of service. Buying the latest car with better fuel economy every two years puts a big load on resources. So its not only using less energy on a day-to-day basis but also running equipment for as long as possible before replacement (although of course as long as the equipment is used for the maximum duration this does not have to be with one owner). Flying the globe for one-day meetings and for family holidays should become fripperies of the past. And the pathological imperative to buy the latest I-phone as soon as it comes to market should be as reviled as smoking in a maternity ward.

2. Find the right way to create Hydrogen in dense form as a fossil fuel replacement. I’m pretty sure it would be possible to build a distillation/cracking/liquefaction plant to turn water to liquid Hydrogen & LOx, but if built in a permanently sunny location this could be solar powered. Ever see solar furnaces melt steel just with focused sunlight? The power is available. The technology to crack, so to speak, is how to get liquid Hydrogen (& Oxygen) in forms that don’t require either dangerous pressures or stupidly low temperatures. But once sorted the Hydrogen/Oxygen fuel should be as usable as petrol.

I have no faith in electricity from wind at all. Its a flawed system and will never produce enough energy to offset the cost of building & maintaining the turbines, and despite the excessive cost they don’t generate when there’s no wind and they don’t generate when there’s too much wind. Eco-bling. Ocean power is marginally better – at least the currents tend to be predictable and durable, but having sunk your 300m turbine into the deep its going to be even more expensive to service than the useless windmills. PV cells at the moment use too many rare materials to be considered – um – green. Solar and ground source heating systems are fine at the domestic level.

So what bridges the gap between now and Compressed Hydrogen & Oxygen Motive Power (CHOMP – especially created Acronym because RT likes us to make them up) – well there is limited room for wood-burning power stations, but to meet the nation’s energy hunger as it stands would probably take more acreage than the UK has available for agriculture – no food production, just wood for the burning. Nuclear has its place; it would be good to find a way to rejuvenate spent fuel rather than tipping it in ocean trenches though. And gas. Its not going to be possible (in my opinion) to stop burning fossil fuels in the near term.

And what does all the above have to do with electric aircraft? As with electric cars, they are not zero-carbon transport. They burn their fuel by remote – the power stations scoff coal oil & gas to make the nice clean electricity to fill up the virtual electric tanks of the machine. I can’t recall what proportion of the motoring public would need to change to overnight charging electric cars before the electricity grid would run out of capacity, but its not a major percentage. Rechargeable electric airliners and electric ships would only add to the pressure on the grid.

So. Use less energy fuel and resources. Keep working stuff until its completely worn out before replacing. Concentrate effort on Hydrogen/Oxygen fuel technology. Simple.

The Other Chris
May 28, 2014 1:08 pm

This could have a massive impact even in its current form, right now.

It’s very expensive maintaining even a PPL with AvGas. It’s why diesel aero engines used to be a holy grail in light aircraft and lighter than air aircraft manufacture.

I’d love this at the airstrip. Solar/Turbine recharging of batteries on the ground ready for quick turnarounds on an aircraft share.

That’s before we even start considering range extenders:

May 28, 2014 1:41 pm


wouldn’t Hydrogen fuel cell technology go a along way towards generating electricity ? You’d need to use a good chunk of the energy produced to make the hydrogen though unless something like this:

can be made to work commercially. I still think Fusion electricity generation is the best medium solution.

it would certainly be clean energy generation in 20 years ?

James Bolivar DiGriz
James Bolivar DiGriz
May 28, 2014 3:41 pm


“Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future” – Niels Bohr.

People have been saying that we will soon run out of fossil fuels for a very long time, certainly since the 1950s. I am not being complacent but experts have been surprised about new sources of fossil fuels so many times that I would not be surprised if we had a good supply for the rest of this century.

Also, as existing supplies begin to run short, then other known sources that were not extracted because it was not economic to do so will become economic. And new sources are almost certain to be found.

I am far from saying that there will not be a shortage of fossil fuels for aviation, rather that the electric plane will not be the solution in the next 20 (30? 50?) years.

“1. Use less energy” Absolutely. Where something like this plane might help is in devising lighter aircraft parts in order to make all planes more efficient.

“Not as straight-forward as it might seem as my definition includes raw material extraction …” Again, I totally agree, that is an area that many people often overlook.

“Buying the latest car with better fuel economy every two years puts a big load on resources” Indeed. Toyota make a very environmentally friendly car. Not the Prius, but the Hilux. The Hilux is quite simple, so has less impact in manufacture, it is easy to keep it going for absolutely ages and it is simple to dispose of at the end of its long life.

“but also running equipment for as long as possible before replacement” I have a very green car, it is 16 years old!

“2. Find the right way to create Hydrogen in dense form as a fossil fuel replacement” I don’t know a lot about this but I believe that the most promising area is metal hydrides. These are stable at RTP and so are a lot safer than free or liquid hydrogen. Some energy is needed to liberate the hydrogen from the hydride but a lot less than it gives up when it is ‘burnt’.

“I have no faith in electricity from wind at all” Nor does anyone with a basic degree of numeracy! The correct name for the installations is not wind-farm but subsidy-farm!

“PV cells at the moment use too many rare materials to be considered – um – green” Not only that but they don’t generate enough electricity to be economic (without huge subsides) north of, roughly, the Mediterranean. Also they need a lot of maintenance. The amount of matter left of the surface after rain is enough to reduce the efficiency appreciably. Dust has the same effect. Some commercial set-ups have automated cleaners (brushes?) that wipe the surface several times a day.

“well there is limited room for wood-burning power stations” Actually there is plenty of room for the power stations, but as you say feeding them is the problem. Drax, the largest power station in Western Europe, is being 50% converted to burn wood pellets – which are being shipped in from the US & Canada. Complete economic madness, except for the subsides for non-fossil fuel generation. Environmentally potty as well, there is no way that this is “carbon-neutral”.

“Nuclear has its place; it would be good to find a way to rejuvenate spent fuel” The Thorium fuel cycle is promising for a number of reasons. One being that it can consume old high-level nuclear waste.

“Its not going to be possible (in my opinion) to stop burning fossil fuels in the near term” Totally agree.


“Commercial fusion power generation is 20 years away. And has been since the 1950s” – Physicists adage since at least the 1970s. Sad but true.

Ace Rimmer
May 28, 2014 4:16 pm

I believe one advantage of the E-Fan is that it can adapt quickly to advances in battery technology, as long as they fit the racks in the wings.

May 28, 2014 4:31 pm

I think when we talk about electric propulsion we should decouple the use of motors from the use of batteries and the like. Diesel electric for vehicles and turbo electric for aircraft have many advantages in terms of space and “freedom to arrange” over transmissions and volume, plus some regenerative abilities. The exclusive use of batteries do not, and presently there seems no sign they ever will.

May 28, 2014 4:34 pm

JBDG – gosh – consensus? A rarity…

16 year old car? Positively brand new. I have available one scruffy but mechanically sound one at 24 years old, one tidy but with an engine fault at 46 years old, and a loose collection of parts that used to be a car at 78 years old… Hilux? Pah!

As for new sources of oil, yes I suppose these might be possible. But I am positive there needs to be investment – serious government backed investment – in Hydrogen technologies. For two reasons, firstly its all too easy to see the flow of oil from new sources as salvation and to stick head back in sand until its too late to properly develop the replacement, and secondly the majority of scientists are agreed that global warming has kicked off, and whether the direct cause is entirely down to human activity or not, its a pretty good idea to stop making it worse.

May 29, 2014 6:54 am


re fusion. I would have said 50 rather than 20 myself. Having said that it is also about the amount of R&D money being spent. The JET project in the UK costs about $150m pa and development of ITER is budgeted at about $15 billion over 10 years. Ernst and Young estimated that global capital expenditure for 2013 in the Oil and Gas sector was $541 billion, with $83 billion being spent on Oil exploration alone. The numbers are probably a bit dodgy, but the order of magnitude difference is realistic.

You’re correct Oil is not going to run out any time soon, but the cost of getting Oil out of the ground is getting more expensive as the new oil fields discovered are tending to get smaller, deeper and in fairly deep water environments, making it increasingly expensive to produce. Global demand trends are arguably rising faster than supply trends, so prices are likely to rise in medium term.

James Bolivar DiGriz
James Bolivar DiGriz
June 1, 2014 6:58 pm
Reply to  Nick

@Nick, The ’20 years away’ line was, AFAIUI, used in the 1950s and by the 1970s had taken on a humorous note. When used in the 1970s my understanding is that this was seen as a minimum time.

Of course, money / effort applied affects this. In 1938 an atomic bomb was, if possible, 10 or 20 years away.

The comparison with the money spent on oil & gas is rather apples & oranges. Drilling & developing 10 (or 100) wells in the same area may cost 10 (or 100) times as much as one well but does not mean that the amount of knowledge or experience has increased 10 (or 100) time. In fact it may not have increased at all.

“but the cost of getting Oil out of the ground is getting more expensive” Broadly true and the response will be to use it more efficiently. As I said earlier, where I seem this plane having an impact is in producing lighter components to make all planes more efficient.

James Bolivar DiGriz
James Bolivar DiGriz
June 1, 2014 7:42 pm

“JBDG – gosh – consensus?”
Terribly sorry, I’ll try not to let it happen again. ;)

“I have available …”
I suspect that yours are of sufficient vintage that maintenance etc is relatively simple. At 16 yo mine has sufficient modern “advances” (e.g. engine management system) that it cannot all be done at home and so has become uneconomic to keep going.

“Hilux? Pah!”
I’m not a fan, just pointing out which Toyota is really ‘green’.

Hydrogen technology does seem like the way ahead. One key advantage (actually more of a necessity) is that it looks like it will be possible to refuel in minutes rather than hours.

“and secondly the majority of scientists are agreed that global warming has kicked off”
Not actually true. The often repeated line of ‘97% of scientists say that’ is only true if you think that 76 out of > 10,000 is a large %age.

It comes from analysis of a survey sent to >10,000 scientists, of whom >3,000 responded. Despite the question being ones that even the most hardened sceptic would say Yes to [1], in order to get a convincing end number [2] they ignored all but 76 [3] of the responses.

The justification for narrowing down was that those 79 people said that their specialisation was climate science and that more than 50% of their recent peer-reviewed papers were on climate change.

There are numerous errors with all of this.
– Only people in Earth Sciences were polled. So no meteorologists, no physicists, no chemists, etc.
– It was essentially a US-only poll (90% from the US & 6% from Canada).
– Participants were not told that their choice of specialty name was significant, so some will have put down something other than ‘climate science’ even if that is what they are doing.
– The number of papers published was not considered. So someone with only two papers on ‘climate science’ was included but someone with 10 papers on ‘climate science’ and 11 papers on related areas was not.
– The level of expertise was not included, so a recent post-doc who has only published on ‘climate science’ was included but a professor who has published on a variety of areas was not.

Also, there is a little problem that the best, satellite, data shows that the globe isn’t warming. The RSS & UAH satellite data shows no statistically significant warming for 17yrs 8months and 9yrs 3months respectively. RSS and UAH are not comparable because they use different base periods, RSS only uses 1979-1998 (20 years) while UAH uses the WMO standard of 1981-2010.

1. Specifically
Q1: “When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?” 76 of 79 (96.2%) answered “risen.”

Q2: “Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?” 75 of 77 (97.4%) answered “yes.”

2. Maybe I am being too cynical but what they did does not seem like science as I was taught at university.

3. Q2 was not asked of those of if those who answered “remained relatively constant” to Q1. Hence one is 76/79 and tech other is 75/77.

June 1, 2014 8:20 pm

JBDG – OK so there is an unscientific selection of scientists that think global warming has kicked off – to be truthful I am not really fussed about the stats of surveys, or the scaremongering of ecowarriors, but I am concerned that the ecosystem is a fragile thing that once damaged/distorted would have major effects on the world we live in. An example of which is the Gulf Stream, which has been monitored as ‘weakening’ (the result of more icebergs from the Greenland coast pushing south was the proposed reason) – I don’t know by how much nor if the mass flow of the Gulf Stream varies up & down around a mean value anyway, but if it was to a) cease or b) divert to Morocco, then dear old Blighty would have winters just like Canada’s, as we are on the same latitude. Chilly or what? So I am content to hang on to the view that its a good idea not to risk making any global warming worse by burning tons of fossil fuel at 30,000ft every day.

James Bolivar DiGriz
James Bolivar DiGriz
June 10, 2014 5:36 pm
Reply to  Chris


I am concerned about stats etc because it affects two questions:
1. Is there a problem?
2. If so how big is it?
The answer to those two questions affects what we do.

Those pushing the “97% of scientists say …” line would say ‘Yes’ and ‘Huge’, which leads to the world needing to make very major changes right now.

If, as I believe, the answers actually are ‘Maybe and ‘Small’, then what we need to do is much less and much less urgent.

The dire impacts predicted in the 1990s (e.g. parts of Manhattan under water by now) have not come anywhere near close to happening. All of the evidence is showing that any continued change in the climate is better (i.e. more cheaply) dealt with by adaption than by trying to curb CO2 emissions. Also the cost ratio (adaption vs CO2 curbs) runs at least 50:1 (maybe 100:1) in favour of adaption.

“I am concerned that the ecosystem is a fragile thing” I am not complacent but I am pretty sure that the ecosystem is actually pretty robust. CO2 is only 0.04% of the atmosphere and its ability to trap heat decreases logarithmically. Also as the CO2 content of the atmosphere goes up, plants grow faster, limiting the growth.

The Gulf Stream changing course would be a disaster for the UK. However if that happens in the next few then we cannot reasonably lay the blame at the CO2 we have omitted.

According to the RSS satellite data, the global trend from September 1996 to May 2014, is zero. No overall warming. Various ups and downs as you would expect but no upwards trend.