Russia Tests Superconducting Aircraft Engine

  • The new electric motor will be part of a hybrid power plant (GSU),
  • There are two versions of the engine: 50 and 500 kilowatts.
  • The flying tests with the new engine are scheduled for the end of this year, with the possibility of extension into 2021.

The Russian Foundation for Advanced Research announced that a prototype of an aircraft engine that uses high-temperature superconductivity has been successfully tested. The engine is the first of its kind. The laboratory testing of the new system demonstrated its operation in normal and emergency modes.

Superconductivity is the set of physical properties observed in certain materials where electrical resistance vanishes and magnetic flux fields are expelled from the material. Promising future applications include high-performance smart grid, electric power transmission, transformers, power storage devices, or electric motors.

The Russian Foundation for Advanced Research Projects is an advanced military research agency. The foundation is tasked with informing the country’s leadership on projects that can ensure Russian superiority in defense technology. It will also analyze the risks of any Russian technological backwardness and technological dependence on other powers.

Additionally, the engine did phenomenal on the takeoff and landing of the aircraft. The tests also included the battery discharge and charging in flight, as well as emergency modes of engine operation.  The simulated modes were all completed flawlessly.

Moreover, the new electric motor will be part of a hybrid power plant (GSU), developed by the Baranov Central Institute of Aviation Motor Development engineering team.

The P. I. Baranov Central Institute of Aviation Motor Development is the only specialized Russian research and engineering facility dealing with advanced aerospace propulsion research, aircraft engine certification and other gas dynamics-related issues. It was founded in 1930.

Russian engineers created a  single platform that combines an aircraft electric motor, cable and current limiting device. All three elements are based on high-temperature superconductors cooled by liquid nitrogen to a temperature of -201 °C.

The official press release states that the entire structure is powered by a specially-designed, high-power lithium-ion battery. There are two versions of the engine: 50 and 500 kilowatts. The system also  will combine a superconducting electric motor and a classic internal combustion engine.

The P. I. Baranov Central Institute of Aviation Motor Development is the only specialized Russian research and engineering facility dealing with advanced aerospace propulsion research, aircraft engine certification and other gas dynamics-related issues. It was founded in 1930.

Superconductivity is the property of some materials to have absolutely zero electrical resistance when they reach a temperature below a certain value (the so-called critical temperature).  The materials that have superconductivity are metals and their alloys, semiconductors and ceramics. There are even superconducting alloys and materials in which one or all of the elements that make up it may not be superconductors.

Hydrogen sulfide would be one of them. To note, the superconducting state in the material does not occur gradually, but rather abruptly, when the temperature reaches below the critical temperature. Hence, it is very difficult to get a material to rich superconducting state and usually requires very strong cooling.

Additionally, there are high costs associated with the coming system. Russian engineers claim they achieved cost efficiency.  Currently, the superconductors used today in engineering work at a temperature of about -200–180 °C. Some substances retain superconductivity even at higher temperatures, but this requires other special conditions, like colossal pressure.

The flying tests with the new engine are scheduled for the end of this year, with the possibility of extension into 2021. If the flying tests are successful, the engine will be utilized starting 2025.

It is interesting technology with a lot of promise. However, it is too early to tell the success of such venture.

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Christina Kitova

I spent most of my professional life in finance, insurance risk management litigation.

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