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Zunum picks Safran for developmental hybrid-electric commuter

Boeing-backed US hybrid-electric aircraft start-up Zunum Aero has selected Safran Helicopter Engines to supply a turboshaft engine to generate electric power for the propulsion of its in-development 12-seat commuter aircraft.

Safran says it will supply a new variant of its 1,700-2,000shp (1,270-1,500kW) Ardiden engine family – designated 3Z – which will be capable of delivering 500kW in combination with an electric generator.

The 12-seater – internally dubbed ZA10 – will also be equipped with battery packs to “supplement” electric power during “key stages of flight and over long ranges”.

Earlier this year, Seattle-based Zunum conducted ground tests of the hybrid-electric power system.

Safran says that ground trials will continue through 2019 – with the power system being “upgraded and tested in stages” – ahead of planned flight tests on a modified Rockwell Turbo Commander 840 in the second half of next year.

The high-wing twin-turboprop has a similar weight and performance to the ZA10 and has “excellent single-engine capability”, says Safran.

“The flying testbed will continue to be upgraded with successive prototype [power systems] until start of certification in 2020-2021,” it adds.

Zunum has a target of achieving a 610nm (1,130km) range for the ZA10 and a 60-80% operating cost advantage against comparable conventional aircraft.

Assuming that the hybrid-electric commercial aircraft can operate from small local airports, the type will facilitate “unprecedented door-to-door travel times that are two to four times faster than today”, says Safran.

The ZA10 will be the first of a planned regional hybrid-electric aircraft family. Zunum also proposes to deliver a 4MW-class, hybrid-electric airliner with about 50 seats before 2030.

The company has received financial support from Boeing’s HorizonX division, JetBlue Technology Ventures and the State of Washington Clean Energy Fund.

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