Like a Tesla… But With a Helicopter Engine and Wings


Whenever the topic of next generation aircraft comes up, Bothell, Washington-based Zunum Aero usually makes it into the conversation. That’s because the company, which is backed by Boeing’s HorizonX venture arm, is among several startups looking to develop a hybrid-electric aircraft.

However, recent developments have the company’s first plane, the ZA10, coming closer to a reality. The 12-passenger aircraft’s design features slender wings and two rear-mounted ducted fans but was still seeking a critical component. The plane needs a power source for accommodating flights up to 700 miles in order to be commercially viable, and unlike a car, you can’t really stop along the way. With the batteries used by cars and other electric vehicles not really being an option due to their physical size and weight, the planes need a generator capable of providing up to 500 kilowatts of electric power.

It looks like a solution has been found in the form of a modified Ardiden 3Z engine made by Safran Helicopter Engines. The output will allow the planes to not only meet the conditions for the flight but meet the FAA safety requirement of being able to fly for 45 minutes longer than it takes to reach your destination. The engine system will be adjusted to meet the unique needs of air travel, including the greater power needed for functions such as takeoff and fighting headwinds. Electrical power for less intense functions, like cruising at altitude, will rely on smaller, more economical batteries.

With the goal of the hybrid plane being to not only decrease emissions but use less fuel – making air travel simultaneously greener and less expensive – Zunum says its plane will need half the fuel of a comparable aircraft. Zunum will start testing at altitude next summer, with hopes of installing the full hybrid system by the end of 2019.

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