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The Status of Evtol

Context:

The Union Civil Aviation Minister has said that the Government of India is exploring the possibility of inviting manufacturers of Electric Vertical Take off and Landing (eVTOL) aircraft to set up base in India.

Relevance:

GS III- Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is eVTOL?
  2. Developments in powering eVTOLs
  3. What are the challenges?

What is eVTOL?

  • An electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft is one that uses electric power to hover, take off, and land vertically.
  • Most eVTOLs also use what is called as distributed electric propulsion technology which means integrating a complex propulsion system with the airframe.
  • There are multiple motors for various functions;
    • to increase efficiency;
    • to also ensure safety.
  • This is technology that has grown on account of successes in electric propulsion based on progress in motor, battery, fuel cell and electronic controller technologies and also fuelled by the need for new vehicle technology that ensures urban air mobility (UAM).
  • Thus, eVTOL is one of the newer technologies and developments in the aerospace industry.

eVTOL features include:

  • eVTOL is a runway independent technological solution for the globe’s transportation needs.
    • This is because it opens up new possibilities which aircraft with engines cannot carry out in areas such as manoeuvrability, efficiency and even from the environmental point of view.
  • There are an estimated 250 eVTOL concepts or more being fine-tuned to bring alive the concept of UAM. Some of these include the use of multi-rotors, fixed-wing and tilt-wing concepts backed by sensors, cameras and even radar.
  • The key word here is “autonomous connectivity”. Some of these are in various test phases.
  • There are also others undergoing test flights so as to be certified for use.
  • In short, eVTOLs have been likened to “a third wave in an aerial revolution”; the first being the advent of commercial flying, and the second, the age of helicopters.

Developments in powering eVTOLs

  • The roles eVTOLs adopt depends on battery technology and the limits of onboard electric power.
  • Power is required during the key phases of flight such as take off, landing and flight (especially in high wind conditions).
  • There is also the important factor of weight. BAE Systems, for example, is looking at formats using a variety of Lithium batteries.
    • Nano Diamond Batteries is looking at “Diamond Nuclear Voltaic (DNV) technology” using minute amounts of carbon-14 nuclear waste encased in layered industrial diamonds to create self-charging batteries.
  • There are some industry experts who are questioning the use of only batteries and are looking at hybrid technologies such as hydrogen cells and batteries depending on the flight mission.
  • There is even one that uses a gas-powered generator that powers a small aircraft engine, in turn charging the battery system.
    •  But whatever the technology, there will be very stringent checks and certification requirements.

What are the challenges?

  • As the technology so far is a mix of unpiloted and piloted aircraft, the areas in focus include “crash prevention systems”. These use cameras, radar, GPS (global positioning system) and infrared scanners.
  • There are also issues such as ensuring safety in case of powerplant or rotor failure.
  • Aircraft protection from cyberattacks is another area of focus.
  • A third area is in navigation and flight safety and the use of technology when operating in difficult terrain, unsafe operating environments and also bad weather.

-Source: The Hindu


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October 2022
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