French aerospace research centre Onera has a unique model on its stand, a one-fifth-scale replica of a new all-electric light aircraft design.

The French government-backed agency has recently completed windtunnel tests on the model to help validate the aerodynamics of the design.

It envisages a four- to six-passenger aircraft, around the size of a Cessna 172, which would be powered by 32 small electric fans – each about 50cm (19in) in diameter – mounted on top of the wing.

Onera-wind tunnel


These have the benefit of providing directional control via asymmetric thrust, potentially eliminating the need for traditional control services. In addition, they reduce drag across the upper wing surface by maintaining the layer of boundary air, says Hervé Consigny, director of aeronautics programmes.

Tests of the design took place in Onera's low-speed windtunnel in Lille, in the north of France, in 2016 and 2017, he says, which successfully validated the design and enabled it to develop the relevant control laws.

However, the design is now on ice until an aircraft manufacturer decides to adopt it or a similar configuration.

"[It] is more or less finished for us," says Consigny. "Our job is not to develop more than a concept."

"We know that it could work. But now someone has to find the correct business model."

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