Could the U.K.’s next generation fighter jet be powered by electricity instead of jet fuel?
That’s the dream from BAE Systems, the lead contractor on the Tempest fighter, which has left open the possibility the aircraft could be powered by a hybrid electrical or fully electrical system.
The system would undoubtedly be more environmentally friendly, but there are some doubts such a propulsion system will be ready for action by the time the jet enters service in 2035.
The Tempest fighter was first announced in 2018 at the RAF Farnborough Air Show. Tempest will be first British fighter in decades, and one of the first so-called sixth generation fighters even more advanced than the fifth-generation American F-35 and Russian Su-57.
A large, twin-engine fighter, Tempest will fly equipped with a helmet-enabled virtual cockpit, artificial intelligence, and laser weapons.
Could Tempest become an all-electric jet? It’s unlikely. As Bloomberg points out, electric flight is still in its “infancy.” High performance after-burning turbofan engines, on the other hand, are a well-developed reality.
Unless batteries can deliver the greater power than fuel for the same weight there will be no real reason to change.
An all-electric fighter jet could not refuel in midair like a fighter jet. Fighters need just a handful of minutes to transfer a meaningful amount of fuel from a tanker like the Royal Air Force’s Voyager refueling planes.
A battery-powered fighter would require much more time to transfer electrical energy from a larger aircraft to a smaller jet.
That’s not to say that the Tempest won’t have batteries. The BBC reports the new fighter will sport laser weapons, likely a rear-facing anti-missile system but also possibly a forward-facing laser powerful enough to damage enemy aircraft.
A laser weapon system will need batteries to store electricity the same way a kinetic energy gun requires a magazine to store bullets.
Regardless, the new fighter will likely have power storage capabilities beyond current fighters and push the technology along just a little bit farther. Tempest might not be an all-electric jet, but the aircraft that replaces it—sometime around 2060—just might be?
Popular Mechanics / ABC Flash Point Development News 2020.