Following its announcement of a range of battery packs last month, Wright Electric shares information about its one-megawatt motor powering an Embraer agricultural airplane. Teaming with Axter Aerospace, a Spanish firm with a history of providing backup electric power for otherwise conventionally powered aircraft; Wright helps make crop dusting a safer enterprise. This eight-year-old video shows Axter’s early efforts with a small Tecnam aircraft. (Note: you might want to turn on the closed captioning.)
Low-level flying necessary for dusting or spraying crops requires utter reliability, so a proven turbine backed up by a high-power electric motor seems like an ideal combination for those circumstances. The combined power of 800 kilowatts (1,072 horsepower) allows carriage of a large payload, sufficient power to avoid obstacles, and redundancy to prevent sudden letdowns.
The electric motor has been tested to 1.2 kilowatts (1,608 horsepower), so could provide adequate power even if the turbine failed. Failure of either power source is highly unlikely in any event.
Thus video gives an idea of how power redundancy will be essential in a category of flight marked by hazards.
Electric-Flight.eu explains, “Since June of this year, US startup Wright Electric and Axter Aerospace have been testing a hybrid-electric propulsion system [in] a modified Thrush S2R-T34 agricultural aircraft. Wright Electric is currently developing electric motors, as previously reported, up to 1.2 MW. The Spanish Axter company specializes in special batteries and, above all, in engine management systems. They combined a 300 kW Electrical system (405 hp.) with the standard Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6-A34AG 500 kW turboprop. This coupling [operates] in parallel, which meant that the engine and the PT6 could each turn the aircraft’s propeller. Both engines were operated separately. A separate throttle lever is controlled in the cockpit. “Our hybrid-electric retrofit kit is designed to work with different PT6 engine types,” said CEO Jeff Engler.”
Axter notes the “environmentally friendly aspects of this pairing. “By leveraging electric propulsion, this aircraft significantly reduces emissions, ensuring a more sustainable and eco-friendly alternative to traditional crop dusters.” Financially, the added power allows greater payloads, meaning a pilot makes fewer stops for reloading and potentially makes more money in a shorter time.
Jeff Engler, CEO of Wright Electric, reflected on the pairing. “The successful maiden flight of our hybrid-electric crop duster aircraft marks a significant step forward in our mission to transform the aviation industry. We are excited about the possibilities that this technology presents and are grateful for our partnership with Axter Aerospace, which has been instrumental in making this project a reality.”
Miguel Suarez, CEO of Axter Aerospace, added, “Our collaboration with Wright Electric signifies our commitment to pioneering environmentally responsible solutions in agricultural aviation. The hybrid-electric crop duster aircraft is a testament to our shared vision of creating cleaner, more sustainable alternatives for the future of agricultural operations. Together, we’re redefining what’s possible in the industry.”
Wright-Axter powered “eThrush” skims runwayAgricultural flying provides a rough-and-ready test environment for powerplants. Unlike the clean air and long trips of high-altitude flight, the rigors of navigating short fields and repeated high-stress maneuvers will quickly determine the limits of an aircraft and its propulsion systems.
We will follow this latest development in Wright’s short history. Apparently, Jeff Engler and his team are doing things right and receiving increased attention.