By Mike Mangano
NASA Awards Ampaire for Hybrid Powerplant
Hybrid aircraft developer Ampaire has been awarded $150,000 in funding from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for Innovative Hybrid Powerplant System Research. With Ampaire having made the announcement on Dec. 9, the award is the first of a multi-phase Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program, adding to Ampaire’s increasing award portfolio.
Received by Ampaire for the High Efficiency Powertrain for Hybrid Aircraft (HEPHA) project, the funding will be used for sizing, architecture and other analytical studies over six months as a prelude to a potential second-phase award. Under NASA’s SBIR program, Ampaire intends to install and test the powerplant system on its Cessna Skymaster testbed – the ARPA-E Bird – with the aircraft having been previously used in the US Department of Energy (DOE)’s research.
In a statement, according to Ampaire CEO Kevin Noertker, the award helps “recognize the near-term potential to field hybrid-electric aircraft that will revolutionize aviation by lowering emissions and the cost of travel,” adding that it has been Ampaire, who operated the first flight of the world’s largest hybrid-electric plane, the nine-passenger Eco Caravan on Nov. 18; a global MRO support agreement with Air France Industries KLM Engineering & Maintenance; and an order for 50 Eco Caravan aircraft from lessor/financier MONTE.
With funding from NASA’s SBIR program, Ampaire’s ARPA-E Bird would be configured with a hybrid propulsion drivetrain in the aircraft’s nose, along with an electric drive system in the aircraft’s rear. According to Ampaire, the system could be scaled and certified for light aircraft, such as the Skymaster, or for larger systems, such as regional jets and transport category single-aisle jets.
Ampaire’s new powertrain — AMP Drive AMP-H270 — is smaller than that which powers its Eco Caravan but promises improved efficiency and diverse fuel compatibility. The system is able to generate 270kw — a full 200kw less than the Caravan’s AMP-H570 — but utilises a DeltaHawk DHK180A4 compression ignition engine with an integrated electrical drive designed by Ampaire.
Capable of both Jet-A and sustainable aviation fuels, the compression ignition system means the engine uses all the fuel in the combustion chamber without burning all the air. In this way, fuel use is maximised while the heat is lowered, meaning heat transfer to the coolant is lower while also lowering exhaust temperature. According to Ampaire, this system provides a 45% cruise efficiency gain over standard combustion engines for the Skymaster, and a doubled efficiency when compared to gas turbines.
NASA’s SBIR program will allow Ampaire to continue developing its intellectual property on new hybrid configurations. According to the company, the investment could aid Ampaire, as it seeks to participate in other NASA programs, such as the Subsonic Single Aft Engine Aircraft program.
Under this program, Ampaire proposes a combustion powerplant in the tail with an electric propulsion system distributed along a commercial aircraft’s wings. Such investment from NASA has the potential to strengthen and grow national aerospace businesses. The research and development will help build upon its more famous X-plane series and airfoil research.