Zunum Aero Chooses Safran Engine for Hybrid Electric Aircraft

Startup hopes to deliver lower emissions and operating cost for passenger transport.

Seattle-based Zunum Aero has teamed up with French engine maker Safran Helicopter Engines to supply the hybrid electric engine needed for its ZA10 people mover that is expected to work as a Toyota Prius of the skies, albeit one that can transport a lot more people. Zunum announced the idea last year and has made progress toward first flight, expected as soon as next year.

The Safran engines that will power the ZA10 will be a derivative of the company’s Ardiden series, which produces between 1,700 and 2,000 shp. Named the Ardiden 3Z, the engine will be coupled with an electric generator and an integrated turbo-generator, which will produce 500 kW of electric power. In addition to reducing the fuel burn to drive the airplane with the hybrid power plant, Safran claims new materials and integrated lifecycle management will reduce operating cost through extended life cycles of critical components. Zunum claims the operating cost per hour for the twin turboprop will be about $250, 60 to 80 percent lower than comparable airplanes with conventional powerplants.

“The Ardiden 3Z represents a very powerful complement to the ZA10 because of its exceptional performance, along with low operating and maintenance costs,” said Safran Helicopter Engines’ executive vice president of OEM sales, Florent Chauvancy. “This announcement marks a new step forward in demonstrating [Safran’s] ability to offer hybrid propulsive solutions for tomorrow’s mobility solutions.”

Zunum has already begun testing its hybrid-electric power system. Safran will ground-test the Ardiden 3Z engine and Zunum will initially test it on a Rockwell Turbo Commander 840, which has similar weight and performance as that designed into the ZA10. Zunum said it will begin flying the 3Z on its ZA10 testbed in 2019.

The ZA10 will carry 12 people approximately 700 miles. The airplane is expected to cruise at speeds approaching 300 knots and require runways as short as 2,200 feet for takeoffs and landings.

“The Zunum ZA10 aircraft will bring breakthrough performance to regional aviation, paving the way to fast, electrified, affordable high-speed air services to communities everywhere,” said Zunum Aero’s co-founder and CTO Matt Knapp. In addition to Safran, Boeing HorizonX, JetBlue Technology Ventures and the State of Washington Clean Energy Fund have partnered with Zunum to help fund the program.

In May, private jet charter company JetSuite signed up as the launch customer, committing to as many as 100 airplanes.

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