November 17, 2022

ÉNA in the race for the development of electric aircraft

Jon Robinson

— By Sylvain Daignault, Local Journalism Initiative, Le Courrier du Sud

Electric planes soon in the skies? It is on this ambitious project that the Aerospace Technology Center (CTA) and the National Aerotechnical School (ÉNA) of Cégep Édouard-Montpetit in Longueuil, Quebec, are collaborating.

The project to convert aircraft into electric aircraft is carried out in collaboration with the high-tech company and world leader in pilot training, CAE, and the Florida aircraft manufacturer Piper Aircraft.

This initiative aims to develop, for the Piper Archers already in service, a conversion kit that will be approved by Transport Canada and the Federal Aviation Administration, as well as to market an electric version of this aircraft. A training aircraft already exists and can fly for just over an hour.

Several issues

Francis Archambault, Director General of the CTA, was kind enough to answer questions from Courrier du Sud about this applied research project which brings together a wide variety of researchers, whether in the field of artificial intelligence, mechanics or ‘electricity.

“In addition to the weight and size of the batteries, we have to work on resistance to cold. In flight, you lose two degrees per 1000 feet of altitude. At 20,000 feet, we are down to -40 degrees!” said Francis Archambault, Director General of the Aerospace Technology Center (CTA).

“The integration of our electric motor with the other systems of the device constitutes another major challenge, adds the one for whom Quebec is well positioned for this type of project. We can go from ore to battery in Quebec.”

CTA and ÉNA at the heart of the transformation

The CTA, together with the ÉNA, will contribute strategically to the change of the electric propulsion system of the test aircraft.

“Teachers from the École Nationale d’Aérotechnique, in particular propellant experts, will assist the CTA research team. They will thus develop a better knowledge of electric motorization and the issues related to the replacement of thermal piston engines by electric motors. Teachers will be able to integrate this knowledge into their teaching, thus training a succession of technicians capable of working on the most ecological engines,” notes Pascal Désilets, director of the ÉNA.

Marc St-Hilaire, Vice-President, Technology and Innovation at CAE is delighted with this association, explaining, “We are pleased to collaborate with CTA and ÉNA, two world-class institutions that will support CAE’s electric aircraft modification program and help shape the future of sustainable aviation.”

CTA will take the opportunity to enrich knowledge on electric propulsion systems and will continue research and development in this crucial area. In addition, ÉNA will be able to train technicians capable of working on these new engines and offer refresher training to technicians already on the job market.

Could we one day see fully electric 50 or 60 passenger planes flying in the sky? “We can think of electric hybrid models that would work with ecological fuels,” explains the director general of the CTA.

If the functional kit were presented tomorrow to the competent authorities, Archambault believes that Transport Canada and the FAA would take one or two years to approve it. “The reason is simple: expertise is being built in this area,” he says.

(Photo: Piper Aircraft)