Aircraft asset management and leasing group Falko has backed the development of a hybrid-electric regional airliner with an undisclosed investment in UK start-up Electric Aviation Group (EAG). The 70-seat design was unveiled in July 2020 and the Bristol-based company says it will be ready to enter service in 2028.
According to EAG, the short takeoff and landing Hybrid Electric Regional Aircraft (HERA) will deliver a range of up to 1,380 miles. The company says it expects to be able to offer an all-electric version of the narrowbody airliner by around 2030, as battery or alternative fuel technology permits.
The current design shows four sets of propellers across the leading edge of its fixed-wing. EAG has not specified what type of engine it will use to generate electricity for HERA’s motors or how it will configure the propulsion system. It said that the aircraft will feature what it calls Gear Assisted Takeoff Run (GATOR) technology to support its unspecified short takeoff capability while reducing energy requirements.
EAG estimates that it will need $5 billion to get the HERA into series production. The company is looking to raise capital through a mix of government funding and private sector investors.
However, Falko has refused to disclose the size of its investment in EAG or the terms under which this is being made. “Falko has made the investment, as it is committed to developing a greener future for aviation,” the company’s sales and marketing executive vice president, James Greenstreet, told FutureFlight. “Any airline program requires the support of the financial and lessor community and as such we would expect these aircraft to form part of our portfolio in the future.”
Back in July 2020, EAG founder and CEO Kamran Iqbal told FutureFlight the company intends to assemble a flight demonstrator aircraft based on an existing Bombardier Dash 7 or Dash 8 twin-turboprop, to evaluate its planned propulsion system. It expects to start flight tests with the aircraft by 2024 before building the full-scale HERA prototype.
EAG claims to hold 25 patents for technologies supporting the HERA design, including its Gear-Assisted Take-off Run system and the Potential Energy Recovery System, which is intended to support battery-neutral operations. Plans call for the aircraft to have a maximum takeoff weight of 55,000 pounds, a speed of around 316 mph, and a takeoff field length of just under 4,000 feet. The company views HERA as a replacement for existing twin turboprop regional airliners, such as the ATR72.
Iqbal is an aeronautical engineer who worked for Airbus for 13 years and founded EAG in 2017. The company’s chief technology officer is Norman Wood, who also formerly worked with Airbus, where he was involved in wing design.
Meanwhile, another UK company, Faradair, is stepping up the development of another hybrid-electric aircraft that could be ready to enter service in 2026. The Bio Electric Hybrid Aircraft would seat 18 passengers in scheduled airline service, with a range of up to around 1,150 miles. It is also intended for roles such as cargo flights and firefighting.
Faradair has enlisted the support of MagniX, which will supply a pair of its Magni500 electric motors and the MagniDrive control system. Honeywell is another partner for the program and will be providing a turbogenerator that can run on sustainable aviation fuel. Other partners include Cambridge Consultants and Nova Systems.
The company, which is based at Duxford airfield in eastern England, aims to have the BEHA prototype flying by 2024. Subsequent plans call for the BEHA to be converted to all-electric propulsion by replacing the generator under a supplemental type certificate based on the aircraft’s initial Part 23 approval. The company anticipates building three variants: an initial hybrid-electric model called the M1H; a pilotless M1AT model to be operated autonomously for military roles; and the all-electric E1, which is expected to be available by 2030.
The aircraft is similar in size to the former British Aerospace Jetstream 31 twin turboprop regional airliner, with a wingspan of 55 feet. The preliminary design shows a rear ducted fan and a “triple box” wing consisting of three beams joined together in winglets.