A real electric jet is just around the corner and it will change flying forever

Zunum 2022 aircraft in cloudsZunumThe Zunum Aero jet.
  • Zunum Aero’s will build a 12-seat hybrid-to-electric jet.
  • It will hit the market in 2022.
  • Zunum’s jet will have a range of 1,126 kms.
  • Zunum is backed by JetBlue Technology Ventures and Boeing HorizonX.

On Thursday, electric aircraft start-up Zunum Aero announced its plans to introduce a 12-seat hybrid-to-electric jet by 2022.

“With this announcement, we are coming out and saying our initial product will be a nine to 12 seat aeroplane,” Zunum CTO, Matt Knapp told Business Insider in an interview. “It flies at about 300 mph and is really optimised for regional flights.”

That means everything from short “puddle jumper” flights to longer routes of as much as 700 miles between cities such Boston and Washington D.C, Knapp said.

In April, the three-year-old company made news by earning financial backing from Boeing HorizonX fund and JetBlue Technology Ventures.

“We believe that the regional transportation industry is ripe for disruption and we’re excited to support Zunum and its efforts to help introduce a new era of aviation,” JetBlue Technology Ventures president Bonny Simi said in a statement.

Zunum believes its aircraft will be able to cut door-to-door travels on trips of less than 1,000 miles by more than half. For instance, the company claims a trip from San Jose, California to Los Angeles could be completed in just 2 hours and 15 minutes door-to-door instead of the four hours and 40 minutes it takes now.

According to Knapp, Zunum will be able to do this by taking advantage of a network of more than 5,000 secondary and general aviation airports around the country. Many of these airports have strict noise and pollution requirements that keep larger conventional aircraft out. However, Zunum’s hybrid-electric propulsion system runs virtually silents and with very low emissions. As a result, passengers avoid the long drive to major hubs as well as the long wait times associated with a trip to those airports.

Later on, the company will release a larger 30 to 50 seat jet that will be able to serve larger markets and make longer flights.

Hybrid-to-electric flying

Zunum’s upcoming jet won’t be a pure electric aircraft when it arrives in 2022, but one day it could transform into one, Knapp told us.

That’s because Zunum’s jet will arrive initially as a hybrid-electric aircraft. The plane’s serial hybrid system will feature both an internal combustion generator as well as multiple lithium-ion battery packs.

Knapp believes this setup will not only help allay the range anxiety that has plagued road-going electric vehicles but also provide operational flexibility for owners. Operators will be able to adjust the size and number of the plane’s onboard battery packs to optimise performance. In some instances, less battery and more generator will be called upon, while ultra-short range flights could be made without a generator at all.

Zunum’s customisable propulsion system takes into account the ever-changing tech landscape. Since the aircraft are designed to have a service life of as much as three decades, the company incorporated the possibility that major advancements in technology may be around the corner. As a result, the plane’s battery packs can be easily swapped out for more advanced units and its generator can be removed when advanced battery tech no longer requires its services.

Even though the Kirkland, Washington-based company has a plan in place to go at it on its own if necessary, it is currently in talks with partners to help build and assemble the aircraft.

In addition, Knapp believes Zunum also has a future as a technology exporter with the possibility that its propulsion system could be licensed to other domestic and international aeroplane makers looking to enter the space.

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