GE Aviation and electric propulsion specialist Magnix have won a combined $253 million in NASA contracts for the purpose of developing electrified aircraft propulsion (EAP) systems, with a goal of the technology being in service by 2035.

The contracts support NASA’s Electric Powertrain Flight Demonstration (EPFD) programme, which is part of a broader effort by the agency to promote technologies that could slash the aviation industry’s carbon footprint.

Magni500-powered Cessna 208B Grand Caravan

Source: Magnix

Magnix manufactured the electric propulsion system that powered this Grand Caravan during a May 2020 flight

“The selected companies will conduct ground- and flight-test demonstrations of their EAP technologies applicable to commercial aircraft transports,” NASA said on 30 September. “They will collaborate with other NASA projects on EAP development, flight-test instrumentation and data analysis.”

The work will be performed over five years and also calls for development of 1MW-class electric system technologies.

GE’s share of the award comes in at $179 million, while Magnix’s contract has a $74 million value.

With the effort, NASA aims to help industry “introduce [electric propulsion] technologies to US aviation fleets no later than 2035, supporting short-range and regional commercial air travel, as well as single-aisle seat transports”, NASA says.

Ohio-based GE says it’s work will include development of a “megawatt-class hybrid-electric propulsion system, with ground and flight tests expected to begin “by the mid-2020s”. GE’s test-bed will be a modified Saab 340B, a type powered by GE CT7-9B turboshafts. The company describes the Saab as an ideal platform for testing technology that could eventually be found on regional and single-aisle aircraft.

“After years of maturing individual components of a hybrid-electric system – motors, generators and power converters – GE will systematically mature an integrated hybrid-electric powertrain to demonstrate flight readiness for single-aisle aircraft,” GE says. “GE will also provide guidance and data to establish standards and certification and regulatory requirements for hybrid-electric engines.”

GE has a history of electric-propulsion development. In 2019, GE announced it was working with NASA to develop a “next-generation inverter” as part of a programme to create technology for an electric-powered commercial aircraft. GE has also worked on a 1MW-class system. In September, news broke that GE had won a contract from the Federal Aviation Administration that included developing hybrid-electric technologies.

Magnix has been developing a line of electric propulsion systems, including its Magni350, which produces maximum take-off power of 469hp (350kW), and the more powerful 850hp Magni650. The company has previously flown several aircraft converted to use its electric powertrain in place of conventional engines. 

In May, NASA signified an increased focus on electric propulsion by launching its Sustainable Flight National Partnership, a broad effect to develop carbon-cutting technologies. Under that programme, NASA said it intended to award two contracts in support of electrified-powertrain flight demonstrations.

Story updated on 1 October to include comments received from GE.