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Getting a charge from electrified aircraft
On Honda racing teams, climate-change summits, and why electrified aircraft are bound to happen and to deliver far-reaching results
For a long time, critics have dismissed the possibility that electric-powered aircraft could be feasible, given the capacity of batteries and the limiting factor of their weight. But sometimes technology advances faster than the critiques can evolve, and breakthroughs are actually demonstrated to be possible.
■ Such is the case with electric-powered flight. One company has conducted non-stop flights of more than 300 miles with its small aircraft and has already begun installing a charging network at airports. Another company, bearing a household name, has begun flight-testing a hybrid propulsion system, with plans to put it into regional jets holding up to 180 passengers by the other side of this decade.
■ Aviation gets a lot of attention in the context of climate change -- almost unavoidably, perhaps, because of the paradoxical nature of people traveling to climate-change summits aboard private jets. No matter how rational the choice may be, it looks bad.
■ But while it is believed that aviation only accounts for 2% of global carbon emissions, it's a high-profile 2%. But more significantly, it's in an area where speedy deployment of technological advancements will help to spur progress elsewhere. Businesses dedicated to technological products often benefit a great deal from having a high-performance division, from which improvements in products and processes can flow to the rest of the company. That's why racing has always been crucial to Honda.
■ Electric and hybrid-electric powertrains will be like that for aviation: The faster they can drive elite engineering work, the sooner we will get to see advancements in electrification elsewhere. Powering aircraft with electricity is a really hard problem, but the solutions will spill over into other sectors. For that reason alone, the much-quieter sound of motorized airplanes should make us all stand and cheer.