Written by:sherlockiscool

Published: July 15, 2020

Designing a sustainable concept aircraft in the middle of a crisis

During challenging and uncertain times, it is possible to choose to see a crisis as either an obstruction or an opportunity for change. So, is the middle of an unprecedented pandemic that has grounded entire fleets of aircraft a good time to innovate electric flight?

You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that… it’s an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before – Rahm Emanuel,  American Politician and former White House Chief of Staff.

Sustainable aviation is arguably seen as mission impossible. However, it is a cause that we should all be championing. That is if we want to continue to fly in the future.

Attempts are being made to explore innovations, especially electric flight. But do not expect a revolution to come from the heavyweights in the industry. What business would want to disrupt their own pipeline and render their current aircraft offering obsolete?

It is going to take a start-up,  a fresh and fearless disruptor to force a change and make significant steps in advancing hybrid-electric aircraft towards fully electric flight. Realise have met these disruptors and we have worked together to take on this challenge.
We have designed an electric aircraft.


Under the influence of not just one crisis

There is no denying the devasting impact of coronavirus caused by Covid-19. Over the course of the past few months, the world has been in lockdown and we’ve seen airlines grounding their entire fleets with air passenger traffic down 95%.

The entire value chain in the airline and aviation industry has suffered but as our governments and industry leaders are planning for a post-coronavirus future, they are also doing so under the urgency of climate change. Not just specific to this industry, the bounce back is being referred to as a green recovery.
An inspiring wet and windy Friday striking for Climate Change with Greta Thunberg back in February before Coronavirus took over


On the runway towards electric flight

In an address at the end of June, Prime Minister Boris Johnson shared the government’s plans for reviving the economy. Paying lip service to our innovators and engineering institutions, he declared the UK should produce the world’s first zero-emission long haul passenger aircraft and named the cause jet-zero.

So, how bad is flying for the environment and are zero-emission flights even possible within the next few years?

How bad is flying for the environment?

The impact of flying on the environment is not good.

As far as individual contributions go, flying has the highest carbon footprint compared to any other activity. You could power your house with renewable wind energy, cycle to work every day and even eat less meat. However, the occasional flight, even short-haul, will completely offset those efforts.

The pressure to reduce environmental impact and stay on the ground is beginning to affect people who regularly fly for non-essential travel. Alongside this, there are also legal obligations which have significantly shifted a change in sustainable thinking.

It is worth noting, the UK targets for climate change were passed in the same year as the last global, financial crisis. Following that crash, the need for change ultimately boosted the economy with an increase in start-ups and entrepreneurs – Andrew Redman, Founder and MD of Realise Product Design.

The Climate Change Act 2008 and its 2019 amendment set a hefty target for the UK to reduce carbon and greenhouse gas emissions by 100%, compared to 1990 levels.

The legal requirement to be net-zero by 2050 has seen a response by the aviation industries and the entire value chain for aircraft manufacturing. Big or small, they all need to meet the same goals.

Is the move to electric flight possible?

Powered flight is more efficient per passenger-kilometre than it was 50 years ago. However, the current technology available is reaching its limits and electric flight is an attractive alternative. But is it even possible?


Small electric aircraft have already taken to the skies. The current challenge for sustainable aviation lies in developing a solution that is commercially viable. There is a need for an aircraft that solves the problem of mass transportation with passenger airliners that seat more than a handful of people.

Who is taking off in sustainable aviation?

The move from fossil fuels to electric power is not a new phenomenon but its adoption has not always been the fastest.

If you look at electric vehicles which have been around for more than 100 years, their development has only surged with the likes of Elon Musk at the helm of companies such as Tesla with the aim to provide zero-emission electric power generation.

It took an unburdened, fresh perspective and a whole new start-up organisation to succeed where other established car manufacturers had not.
E-Fan X Teaser from Airbus. A hybrid-electric demonstrator axed in April this year before its maiden flight

In the aviation industry, something similar is happening. There are companies out there working on making electric flight a reality. This includes industry leaders, Airbus and Rolls-Royce, who have been working on a hybrid-electric demonstrator since 2017. However, the aircraft due to take its maiden flight in 2021 under the E-Fan X programme was axed back in April.

So, what now?

Recovering from the coronavirus fallout and not jeopardising the bottom line by disrupting their own markets means that the aviation giants are not going to be able to deliver a solution any time soon.

This means there is an incredible opportunity to influence the future of electric flight. Not least of all, because there is no viable economic case for electric aircraft that can carry no more than 20 people – the only current offering.

This is where the Electric Aviation Group (EAG) comes flying in.

The Electric Aviation Group

The Electric Aviation Group (EAG) is a new start-up and powerhouse of industry specialists with decades of experience between them.

The company was founded by former heavyweights in the aviation industry who realised the only way they could change the future in electric aircraft was to leave their jobs and start afresh.
Hybrid Electric Regional Aircraft (HERA) Concept passenger airliner designed by Realise and the Electric Aviation Group (EAG)

Formerly AMRD, the company have developed new and disruptive technologies to enable the design and manufacture of hybrid and all-electric aircraft. The combination of intellectual property, for example, in kinetic energy recovery systems and new battery technology alongside a disruptive mindset is a runway for their success.

Solving the mass transportation problem through larger means of air transportation, a 70+ seat Hybrid-Electric aircraft, is the way forward – Kamran Iqbal, Founder and CEO of EAG.

An opportunity to innovate electric flight

Realise were approached by EAG to help them create a compelling story and develop real-life, feasible concepts for their Hybrid-electric Regional Aircraft, HERA.

With aerodynamics and engineering expertise in our team, we were able to apply aircraft design principles and engage with EAG to understand their critical, technical requirements. This was complemented by our abilities to give 3-dimensional form to their vision for a concept aircraft.

As product designers, we have a deep understanding of physical forms and the laws of physics that govern them. We do not just produce beautiful pictures or concept renders that are meaningless in real life.

In our industry, if you know, you know!

Innovation grounded in reality

The ATR72 is a short-haul regional airliner that carries 72 passengers and took its maiden flight in 1988. It remains in service and is in current production, outside of the coronavirus impact. Using this legacy in aviation as a design reference gave us a real-world 3D footprint for building a concept aircraft.

As lovers of aircraft design, we also took design cues from the de Havilland Comet which itself has an interesting story. Initially developed in 1949, the aircraft was the world’s first commercial jetliner and considered to be a futuristic and a forward-thinking plane back in its day.

Sadly, the aircraft experienced metal fatigue (a phenomenon unknown at the time), problems with pressurisation and numerous other design failures that resulted in some highly publicised crashes. With the British aircraft industry reeling from the negative impacts of their failures, the lessons learnt would provide long-lasting value to the aviation industry. Sadly, it would ultimately be the American industry who would profit the most and if it were not for the British getting there first, they would have experienced the exact same failures.
Hybrid Electric Regional Aircraft (HERA) Concept passenger airliner designed by Realise and the Electric Aviation Group (EAG)

Working closely with EAG to review each design iteration, the end result is a concept aircraft that is grounded in reality. It is a significant stepping stone built on a clever collection of small innovations using EAG’s proprietary technology to accelerate the reality of electric flight. This is in contrast with conceptual airliners such as Airbus’ Bird of Prey that does not represent an actual aircraft in the pipeline for commercial production.

If you are interested in finding out more details about how we delivered the concept, you can read the full project case study here.


What next?

If you ask us if it is a good idea to invest in designing a sustainable concept aircraft in the middle of a crisis, our answer is yes.

Of course, this comes with the caveat that there is a real, urgent need for hybrid-electric and all electric innovations if we are to achieve net-zero flight by 2050.

The aircraft is being officially unveiled to coincide with the opening of this year’s Farnborough International Airshow held virtually, July 20th – 24th and we are looking forward to hearing how well the concept flies amongst the industry professionals.


Let’s get started

+44 (0)117 325 9100 | info@realisedesign.co.uk

Inspired to get creating?…

You may also like…

Athletes Know What Athletes Want

Athletes Know What Athletes Want

Athletes know what athletes want. We get it. Whether climbing & biking, sailing & skiing, we want to perform at our best & have fun doing it. Our love of sport in the team extends into who we are as designers; we want to help performance brands change the game for their athletes through effective product design. This is how!

ISPO Munich Online 2021

ISPO Munich Online 2021

The good news is that despite many facing enormous business challenges, the sports and outdoor industry have used the past 12 months for serious reflection time to double down on sustainability. Here’s our summary of what we found important at ISPO 2021!

The complex nature of design simplicity

The complex nature of design simplicity

The complex nature behind simple products isn’t always as obvious as you might think, especially when it comes to the world’s first hot chocolate shaker!