The U.K.’s sixth-generation fighter jet could be powered by electricity instead of jet fuel. That’s the word 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 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.
According to Bloomberg, BAE Systems is “examining all options” for the Tempest fighter. The company has just brought Williams Advanced Engineering, a motorsports company that specializes in batteries for race cars, to work on the Tempest project. The company will bring its expertise in battery management and cooling technology to the table.
The name Tempest holds to the U.K.’s tradition of naming fighter jets after ferocious weather, including such famous jets as the Hawker Hurricane, English Electric Lightning, Panavia Tornado, and Eurofighter Typhoon. Tempest will enter service in the mid-2030s with the Royal and Italian Air Forces.
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 refuelling 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.
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