Upstart aviation manufacturer aims to build a hybrid electric jet engine

It is often rare to have an upstart business quickly penetrate the airline industry’s rigid status quo, however it seems as a few start-up aviation companies are doing just that. One of them is Zunum Aero, who is seeking to produce small hybrid electric powered commuter plans for up to 12 passengers. It plans to launch its first plane, the ZA10, in the early 2020’s.

Today Zunum announced that it would be using Safran’s twin-spool Ardiden 3Z light helicopter engine to power its planes. Although unknown to the general public, Safran is one of the premier suppliers of turbine helicopters, used by a majority of the world’s premier airplane manufacturers.

Florent Chauvancy, Safron’s head of OEM sales, said that its collaboration with Zunum “marks a new step forward in demonstrating Safron’s ability to offer hybrid propulsive solutions for tomorrow’s mobility solutions.

Zunum’s chief engineer claims that hybrid electric planes represent the future of travel but also insists that the electric battery density is not high enough yet to cover the long distances planes must travel. At most, the electric power would be able to power the plane for 500 miles, which is far short of the requirement for most flights.

Nonetheless, he insists that the hybrid’s powertrain will still reduce emissions by more than 80% and that planes can save between 40-80% of their fuel on each flight. The company claims that the cost of each flight would be 8 cents per passenger mile. For most US airlines and regional carriers, its significantly higher than that. Matt Knap, Zunum’s chief engineer, claims that the majority of the power will be used for the take off and landing, and while in cruise mode, the plane will likely function almost entirely on electric energy.

Their new propulsion system will give them 1,300 horsepower, which should be enough to power the plane to fly at a rate of 340km/hr. Knapp claims that they will also be powered by a single pilot, although regulations from the Federal Aviation Administration might place restrictions on the number of passengers it can fly if that was to be the case. Knapp however, is confident that in the long run Zunum’s plane’s will be able to fly autonomously.

Until then Zunum still must prove it can produce the hybrid plane. Their partnership with Safron will definitely help them reach this goal, however their design’s future is difficult to predict.