Siemens introduced the world this week to the first serial hybrid electric aircraft at the 2011 Paris Air Show in Le Bourget, France.
The DA36 E-Star, a two-seater composite glider, was a partnership project among Siemens, aircraft manufacturer Diamond Aircraft Industries, and aerospace giant EADS. The plane is based on Diamond Aircraft's HK36 Super Dimona.
Similar to General Motors' Chevy Volt drive train, the DA36 E-Star uses a serial hybrid electric drive train in which a main engine is powered alternately by a gasoline-powered generator and batteries.
A 70-kilowatt Siemens engine runs the aircraft's propeller. That engine is powered alternately between a small Wankel combustion engine made by Austro Engine that runs on gasoline and acts as a generator, and EADS batteries. Additional EADS batteries are used during takeoff and ascent.
While it's in early development, Siemens claims its drive train can be scaled up for use on a large passenger plane, and under further development hopes to create a drive train that can save 25 percent in fuel consumption.
Of course, even more so than with electric cars, battery weight is still an issue. The plane's range is limited by the number of batteries and the amount of fuel it can carry.
But silence is golden even in the skies, or at least during takeoff and landing. Aside from the obvious potential for immense cost savings in fuel, the plane can take off and land in electric-only mode, making it significantly quiet for passersby on the ground.
While the plane's public debut was at the 2011 Paris Air Show, the City of Light was not the setting for this plane's maiden voyage. The DA36 E-Star made its actual aerial debut on June 8 in Vienna, from Wiener Neustadt Airfield. Austria is the home base of Diamond Aircraft.