“Twenty years from now, it’s going to be mostly an all-electric world,” including airplanes, said futurist and private pilot John Petersen at last week’s AOPA Aviation Summit in Long Beach, California. Petersen, who was recently hired by NASA to provide a future vision of aviation, shared his insights at a keynote address streamed live on the Internet.
He cited numerous “early signals” that electric power plants are coming to aircraft, stating, “The Yuneec is an electric plane that you’re going to be able to buy and fly next year.” Petersen also noted that George Bye and Cessna are working on an electric 172 that’s going to fly in 2011, and the Solar Impulse is being readied for a non-stop, around-the-world flight. Even Boeing has an advanced design team developing a conceptual model for hybrid electric airliners.
The defining issue is batteries, Petersen said. Thanks to the automotive industry, “There’s been a doubling of energy density in the last 10 years in the development of batteries.” New technologies will let you charge a car’s battery for five minutes and will then go 500 miles. New ceramic batteries weigh 300 pounds compared to 3,000 pounds for lead acid batteries and these will find their way into airplanes, he predicted.