The take off of the first Air Race E electric plane marks a milestone and new opportunities for electric aviation.

The competition’s founding partner, Airbus, is playing an important role in developing a platform to create cleaner and more efficient electric air vehicles. The first team to achieve lift off was Nordic Air Racing. A modified Cassutt IIIM piloted by Rein Inge Hoff made an almost silent take off from Tønsberg Airport in southern Norway last month. Hoff made history as the first pilot to fly an all-electric race plane. For 15 minutes, he put the Nordic Air Racing machine through its paces, reaching a full-power cruise of 180 knots (333 km/h), before landing safely.

The test flight also an important breakthrough for electric aviation. As the testing continues, the world’s top pilots will hit speeds of more than 400 km/h just metres above the ground in the Air Race E series, which starts in 2023.

Driving the development of cleaner, faster and more advance electric engines

Air Race E is the world’s first all-electric aircraft competition but it will represent more than just a thrilling spectacle. Founding partner, Airbus is providing the 17 teams with research data and industry expertise to help collectively drive the development of cleaner, faster and more technologically advanced electric engines. Some of the insights gained from the competition and lessons learned from the electrical propulsion systems will be key assets for Airbus solutions – from urban air mobility and eventually through to commercial aircraft.

Paving the way for electric innovation

Airbus is committed to developing, building and testing alternative-propulsion systems to reduce the CO2 emissions of aircraft, helicopters, satellites and future UAM vehicles. Alternative propulsion is the main challenge for all transport sectors, and electric and hybrid-electric technologies are already revolutionising mobility on the ground. Aviation may face different challenges, but the industry is also learning from experience within the automotive sector.

Karim Mokaddem, Airbus Electrification Fast Track Leader said: “More than ever, when we look at the concept of sustainable mobility, the challenges push us to work differently, to be disruptive and to use the learnings and achievements from a mix of sectors. In this case, flying aircraft using tried and tested electric technologies from the automotive industry is proof of that and is an approach we fully support as part of our electrification journey.”

Just as electric motorsport is pushing disruptive innovation in ground vehicles, Air Race E is expected to soon bring similar benefits to aviation. Airbus programmes include electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles (eVTOLs) and micro-hybridisation projects, which aim to power a growing number of on-board systems via batteries.

Cross-fertilisation between automotive and aerospace sector paves the way for new ideas

Mokaddem says some of the synergies and best practices from Air Race E aircraft, lessons learned from the competition challenges, such as battery integration, system engineering, techno-bricks performance and safety could be integrated into Airbus solutions. These will help establish standards and regulations around key electrification technologies including embarked batteries. He added that cross fertilisation from automotive technologies including motors, batteries, could pave the way for new ideas and roadmaps from different markets, accelerating the company’s ambition to pioneer aerospace decarbonisation. “Air Race E is for us the best flying testbed to reach this objective and assess the first potential,” he said.

First Air Race E race to take place in 2023

While Nordic Air Racing has claimed the honour of the first-ever electric race plane flight, all 17 teams will now spend the coming weeks and months rigorously testing their aircraft on the ground and in the air. Air Race E’s first race is scheduled to take place in 2023. It will mark the official start of a mainstream platform that can accelerate innovation in electric propulsion.

Air Race E CEO Jeff Zaltman explained: “The world is depending on Airbus and partnerships like ours to guide the aerospace industry onto a sustainable path for generations to come.”

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