Embraer reveals electric and hydrogen-powered aircraft; ponders autonomous flight

Embraer has unveiled a family of four low- or zero-emission concept aircraft for the regional market that it hopes to fly over the coming decades, including hybrid-, all-electric and hydrogen-powered models.

Dubbed, “Energia”, the concept aircraft family was unveiled during a live-streamed event this week.

The Energia aircraft will employ next-generation technologies to achieve “low- or zero-carbon emissions” via “different propulsion architectures for different missions”, said Embraer senior vice-president of engineering, technology and corporate strategy Luis Carlos Affonso.

Embraer said it intends to develop a nine-passenger hybrid-electric model, the E9-HE, for service entry by 2030.

The E9-HE will be about 50% more efficient than an aircraft powered by a gas turbine, according to the company; CO2 emissions will also be cut by 50%, or 90% if the piston engine uses sustainable aviation fuel.

In a move that will be of keen interest to energy underwriters, Embraer’s 19-seat E19-H2FC will be powered by hydrogen fuel cells.

Embraer intends to round out the Energia family with its gas turbine-engined E50-H2GT, a 35-50-seat aircraft with twin powerplants capable of burning either aviation fuel or hydrogen.

Targeted for service entry by 2040, the E50-H2GT’s range will be 350nm when fuelled by hydrogen and 500nm when burning standard jet fuel or SAF, Embraer said.

“The right-sized hydrogen tank reduces weight and drag, improving aerodynamics and performance”, Affonso commented, adding that the two nine-seaters could be flown by a single pilot, while the larger pair will, initially at least, require two flight crew.

Significantly, he said that “in the timeframe we are talking about”, advances in automation could mean that only one pilot is required “and eventually an autonomous airplane”.

Embraer Commercial Aviation marketing vice-president Rodrigo Silva e Sousa stressed that all four designs – which the company has been working on over the last two years – are “more than just technology demonstrators” and there is a “real intention to bring those projects to life”.

As part of its development effort, Embraer intends in 2025 to complete the first flight of a hydrogen-powered demonstration aircraft, added Arjan Meijer, chief executive of Embraer Commercial Aviation.

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