Hünxe is a pretty little town in northwestern Germany that has its own local history museum, a castle and a small market square. It also has a landing field that entered the aviation record books on November 25, 2016. That was when Pilot Walter Extra set a new world record in ascent with the Extra 330LE aerobatics plane. Equipped with an electric drive system from Siemens, the electric aircraft reached an altitude of 3,000 meters in only four minutes and 22 seconds. The airplane rose into the air at 11.5 meters per second.
The Extra 330LE aerobatics airplane is equipped with an electric drive system from Siemens that has a continuous power output of 260 kilowatts, weighs only 50 kilograms, and thus offers an unprecedented power-to-weight ratio. The aerobatics plane has set a world record in ascent: the pilot reached an altitude of 3,000 meters in only four minutes and 22 seconds, beating the previous record by more than one minute. Now the plane also reached a top speed above 340 km/h in straight flight and the world´s first aerotow with an electric plane.
Extra broke the previous record – set by the American pilot William M. Yates in 2013 – by one minute and 10 seconds. The World Air Sports Federation – Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) – recognized the record-breaking flight. It is now immortalized in the category of “Electric aircraft weighing up to 1,000 kilograms.”
The first flight using the drive system took off in June 2016 from the Schwarze Heide landing field in Hünxe. At the heart of the system is an electric motor from Siemens, which also holds a world record. It has a power-to-weight ratio of 5 kilowatts per kilogram and yet supplies 260 kilowatts of continuous electric power while weighing a total of only 50 kilograms.
Two more Records
But that is not all: On March 23, 2017, the Extra 330LE aerobatic plane set two new records. The electric aircraft reached a top speed of around 337.50 kilometers per hour (km/h) over a distance of three kilometers. The speed achieved by pilot Walter Extra was 13.48 km/h faster than the previous record, which had been set by U.S. pilot William M. Yates in 2013. The World Air Sports Federation (FAI) officially recognized the record flight in the category “Electric airplanes with a take-off weight less than 1,000 kilograms.” The Extra also set a new FAI world record in the category “above 1,000 kilograms”: in a slightly modified configuration with an overall weight exceeding one metric ton, test pilot Walter Kampsmann flew the electrically powered plane at a speed of about 343 km/h.
Furthermore the Extra 330LE gave another premiere performance by becoming the world’s first electric aircraft to tow a glider into the sky on March 24, 2017 - by becoming the world’s first electric aircraft to tow a glider into the sky. The nearly silent aerotow piloted by Walter Extra took a type LS8-neo glider up to a height of 600 meters in only 76 seconds.
“This are milestones on the path to electrification in aviation,” said Frank Anton, who heads eAircraft within Siemens’ next47 startup unit. “This enormous achievement was possible only with digital technologies that enabled us to push our drive train to its technological limits.” The Extra 330LE, which weights approximately 1,000 kilograms, serves as a test vehicle for the new drive.
Hybrid Electric Regional Aircraft
The Extra 330LE two-seater will be the ideal test aircraft for the coming years, when the goal will be to analyze and further develop how the individual components of its propulsion system work together. Siemens will also bring the technology to its electric flight collaboration agreement with Airbus, which the two companies signed in April 2016. They want to prove the technical feasibility of hybrid electric drive systems for regional aircraft with up to 100 passengers by 2020. This will require power ratings of up to 10 megawatts. The two partners plan to develop hybrid electric regional aircraft on the basis of the record-breaking motor. “We expect to see the first aircraft with up to 100 passengers and a range of approximately 1,000 kilometers by 2030,” said Anton.