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Authors: D. Eržen, M. Andrejašič, R. Lapuh, J. Tomažič and Č. Gorup - Pipistrel Vertical Solutions d.o.o., Slovenia T. Kosel – Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, Slovenia
The first electric aircraft was created by simply replacing the piston engine system of a normal combustion engine aircraft by an electric propulsion unit. Although environmentally friendlier, this was not an optimal design as the energy density of even the most advanced batteries of today is still much lower than that of gasoline engines. Optimal energy use is crucial in an electric aircraft .
One way to improve the energy balance of an electric aircraft, is by using its propeller as an airborne wind turbine! The propeller recuperates the aerodynamic energy of a descending aircraft, which is then turned into electric energy and stored in the battery.
That is exactly what Pipistrel, a world-leading designer and manufacturer of energy-efficient and affordable high-performance aircraft, did: they designed a propeller specifically adapted for exploiting in-flight power recuperation. The objective was to improve the energy consumption of the Alpha Electro, Pipistrel’s electric trainer aircraft.
Climb is the most energy consuming part of an aircraft traffic pattern. The new EA-002 propeller was designed to exploit energy recuperation capabilities during descent, while preserving good performance in the climb flight phase.
For the optimization of the propulsion system, a 3-way approach was performed:
Fig.1 : CFD geometry and velocity distribution over a cross section of a propeller
The performance of the propulsion units was evaluated by comparing and testing 3 propellers with the following two testing methodologies:
These were the 3 tested propellers (Fig.2):
Fig. 2 Propellers from left to right: Pipistrel AS-D, EA-001 and EA-002 (installed on Alpha Electro).
Climb & descent manoeuvres were tested according to these parameters:
Testing for the traffic pattern circuit with one fully charged battery included manoeuvres prescribed in the Alpha Electro Pilot Operating Handbook (POH) as follows:
Climb/departure, crosswind and downwind cycle phases:
Base, final, touch-and-go cycle phases:
The AS-D and EA-001 propellers have similar climb performance and recuperation capabilities. But with the EA-002 propeller, the aircraft consumes 6% less energy during the climb compared to the AS-D propeller and is able to recuperate 0.15kWh at the descent speed of 70kts. Moreover, the propeller optimized for recuperation (EA-002) showed a 19% reduction in net energy consumption compared to the EA-001.
As for the number of traffic pattern circuits performed with one fully charged battery: the test pilot was able to carry out almost the same number of traffic patterns with the AS-D and the EA-001 propellers, and 27% more (compared to AS-D) with the EA-002 propeller. This resulted in better climb efficiency and higher energy recuperation of the EA-002 at a relatively low approach speed of 50 kts, which was kept constant for all three propellers.
The results from the climb & descent manoeuvre tests are presented in Table 1:
A comparison was performed between CFD simulation results and flight test measurements of the EA-002 propeller. Two parameters were compared: the thrust and the propeller power coefficient.
Figs. 3 and 4 depict values of thrust and power coefficients versus advance ratio of the EA-002 propeller respectively. As seen in the figures, the design predictions of Cadence's CFD simulation results and the flight test measurements of the propeller are in good agreement.
Fig 3. Design predictions, CFD and test flight measurements of the thrust coefficient for EA-002 propeller versus advance ratio.
Fig 5. Design predictions, CFD and test flight measurements of the power coefficient of the EA-002 propeller versus advance ratio.
The aircraft consumes 6% less energy during the climb. Net energy consumption during ascent/descent manoeuvres decreased by 19%. A 27% increase in the number of traffic pattern circuits was achieved.
Due to the reduction of energy consumption, the aircraft can stay airborne longer and/or smaller battery packs may be installed for a specific flight time.
The EA-002 is set to become the first European Aviation Safety Agency certified propeller with recuperation capability for electric propulsion.
Full Journal paper:
D. Erzen, M. Andrejasic, R. Lapuh, J. Tomazic, C. Gorup, and T. Kosel, "An Optimal Propeller Design for In-Flight Power Recuperation on an Electric Aircraft", 2018 Aviation Technology, Integration, and Operations Conference, AIAA AVIATION Forum, (AIAA 2018-3206)