Would you set foot on an electric-powered or hybrid aircraft? It may be some time before that happens, but it is getting closer every day. If engineers at GE Aviation have anything to say about it, electric aircraft will be flying sooner rather than later.
I learned that GE Aviation is creating an Electrical Power Integrated Systems Research & Development Center (EPISCENTER) near Dayton, Ohio, to focus on hybrid and electric vehicles, including aircraft, ground vehicle, and marine applications. Currently conducting site research, analysis, and final business reviews, GE executives anticipate that EPISCENTER operations will begin in 2012.
“GE’s EPISCENTER will focus on advanced energy management involving electric power systems research and development, including electric power generation, control, distribution and management, conversion, and energy storage equipment,” says Vic Bonneau, president of Electric Power for GE Aviation Systems. “This center of excellence will be used to design optimized systems that deliver electric power efficiently and robustly for our military and commercial customers.”
A capital grant for up to $7.6 million from the Ohio Third Frontier Commission is helping to support the center. The fiscal agent is the University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI), researchers of which will work with GE to develop and deploy computer modeling, simulation, and analysis of advanced, dynamic electric power systems designs and controls.
“Electrification in transportation is a growth area,” Bonneau continues. “This center will yield system-level benefits so that our customers can more rapidly benefit from this trend in energy management, climate control, radars and sensors, silicon carbide-based power conversion, and electric actuation, to name a few.”
Work will center on advanced electrical power systems research and development in support of hybrid electric ground vehicles, the electrification of naval surface ships, and especially the aviation industry’s More Electric Aircraft (MEA) technology. The center’s electrical power technology is likely to power future generations of commercial air transports, business and regional jets, and strategic and tactical ground combat vehicles, joint light tactical vehicles, unmanned air vehicles, and miniaturized electronics aboard naval vessels, reveals a company representative.
I am all for reducing reliance on fossil fuels, and so I am encouraged by GE’s investment in alternative power sources. I do hope, however, that the company is investing in proven, advanced, and adequate software tools to support its design and development efforts. Given recent events—the software glitch discovered in Toyota’s Prius hybrid vehicle (resulting in accidents, deaths, and recalls) and American Airlines’ troubles with electrical wire bundles (grounding planes in 2008)—I hope industry leaders such as GE fully understand the importance of electrical design automation, quality assurance and testing, and requirements tracing tools to ensure high-assurance, safety-critical results. With the knowledge that these software innovations are in place, I believe I could step confidently onto an electric aircraft.