ABOVE: The modified Daher Socata TBM turboprop features six additional wing-mounted ‘E-props’

The EcoPulse demonstrator – a ‘distributed hybrid-electric propulsion’ aircraft demonstrator jointly developed by Airbus, Daher and Safran – has made its first public appearance in its final external configuration, ahead of the EcoPulse’s first flight using the new propulsion system later this year.

Based on a modified Daher Socata TBM turboprop, the platform aims to serve as a developmental test-bed for concepts which could be later scaled up to larger airframes. Six additional wing-mounted 800v 25-kW Safran ENGINeUS powerplants (each with a three-bladed prop) come courtesy of Safran, with Airbus providing the high-energy-density batteries, flight control systems and electric distribution. “Now is the time to bridge the gap between legacy [systems] and the introduction of the electrical world,” noted Christian Mussot, CTO of Safran.

The modified Socata  first flew (using conventional power) at the end of 2022 and so far has conducted around 27 hours of flight time with the E-propellers feathered. After upcoming ground tests, over 70 flights investigating different configurations of electrically-powered propellors are scheduled to take place over the coming year, when – in the words of Sabine Klauke, CTO of Airbus – distributed electric propulsion will “really come to life for the first time”.

Three-bladed propellers replace the five-bladed variants visible on this model, and flight tests of the new propulsion system will commence later this year.

Although Safran’s Musson noted that the hybrid-electric aircraft brought to market in 2027 wouldn’t necessarily be identical to this one, he reinforced the need to be prepared by the time customers might be ready to make the switch from conventional power sources. As battery power density continues to mature (with Musson adding “it’s clear we need the next steps in technology”), he concluded that “if [Daher] propose hybrid aircraft at 10% of the current production rate, [he’d] consider it a success.”

Vice President of Electrification for Airbus, Karim Mokaddem, added that “this kind of collaborative approach” made huge sense, as did the approach of using a light aircraft to test technology that could later be applied to larger platforms.