UW-Madison working on hybrid electric aircraft

Hybrid electric cars are everywhere these days, most famously the pioneering Toyota Prius. But there aren’t hybrid electric planes, mainly because the batteries required to get a plane off the ground are so heavy they make it hard to get the plane airborne. A University of Wisconsin-Madison project, funded by an $11.4 million grant from the US Army, hopes to change that.

The Army’s motive isn’t environmental stewardship, though that’s a great side benefit. The problem they’d like to hack is the challenge of getting jet fuel to locations around the world, especially combat zones. One aspect of the UW research is to create a jet engine that will run on whatever fuel is available locally around the globe, including diesel, jet fuel, gasoline, and ethanol. The electric component will help the ignition process and also assist turbocharging.

Other schools collaborating on the project include Iowa State and the Universities of Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota.