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Hybrid Electric Propulsion

NASA is investing in Hybrid Electric Propulsion research as part of its overall efforts to improve the fuel efficiency, emissions, and noise levels in commercial transport aircraft. The term “hybrid electric” is being used loosely here, and it’s really meant to encompass many different methods for using both airplane fuel and electricity to drive the propulsion system.


N3-X Concept Art
N3-X Hybrid Wing Body Turboelectric Plane Concept. Credits: NASA

Hybrid Electric Propulsion is an exciting area with much promise for improving the fuel efficiency, emissions, and noise levels in commercial transport aircraft. NASA’s research in this area includes airplane concepts, electrical power systems, component materials, and test facilities along with exploratory investment in turbine-generator interactions and boundary-layer ingestion validation. The overall goal is to reduce fuel burn, energy consumption, emissions, and noise for single aisle, passenger aircraft.

Concept art SUGAR Volt 1.
The Subsonic Ultra Green Aircraft Research, or SUGAR, Volt design concept. Credits: NASA / The Boeing Company

At GRC, we concentrate on passenger airplanes that are large enough to carry at least 150 people for long distances. The three pictures on this page are examples of future concepts that have been designed by NASA and its industry partners. We use these concepts to understand how electrification of the propulsion system affects things like overall energy used over the course of a trip, how batteries might be used to boost power during takeoff, and how to reduce drag by strategic placement of electrically-driven fans.

Single Aisle Transport Plane concept art.
NASA’s STARC-ABL turboelectric Plane Concept. Credits: NASA

These are just a few examples, and they illustrate the fact that introducing electric motors and generators to store energy and drive fans provides a great degree of new design freedom. Shown on this page are the fully turboelectric, superconducting N3-X (top), the parallel hybrid Sugar Volt (middle), and the partially turboelectric STARC-ABL (bottom).

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