Electrified: Aviation Experts in talks!

19/05/2020 2020/05

Side by Side: Avionics and Automation

Geiger Engineering develops complete drive systems especially for electric flight. With their components, the Bavarian developers are setting standards for performance and reliability and creating a new market in recreational aviation.

We talked to owner Joachim Geiger about current developments in e-mobility in aviation.

Joachim Geiger testing a new engine
© Geiger Engineering

Mr. Geiger, tell us about the beginnings of your company!

I founded Geiger Engineering in 2006 with the two business fields of automation technology and avionics. Both business areas are very similar in the technical field and complement each other perfectly.

What activities do you carry out in these two business areas?

In automation technology we are active in the construction of special purpose machines and the automation of industrial plants and machines. Here our focus is on software development for control systems and electric drives. Our clientele is rather local. But we also serve customers abroad, where we optimize and maintain the plants via remote maintenance.

In the second business segment, avionics, we not only produce avionics in the narrower sense, i.e. cockpit electronics, but also develop complete electrical drive systems as plug and play solutions for aircraft manufacturers.

Where does your fascination for electric aviation come from?

Since I was 16 years old, I have been an enthusiastic hang glider and UL pilot myself. I always had the vision to equip my kite, my trike, my UL with the electric motor. However, 14 years ago, when I founded the company, there were hardly any components that could have been assembled. Then we started to buy different parts and in some cases we already combined them with our own developments. However, when buying in parts, it must be taken into account that hardly any components are suitable for aviation, since weight naturally plays a major role here. We then came to the conclusion that we develop everything needed for a propulsion system ourselves and also manufacture it with our partners. I also reserve the right to test all new developments on my aircraft in the air before I release them for the market. 

Especially your electric motors for microlight aircraft are very revolutionary. You have been selling them for twelve years already? Is the market ready for them now?

We first exhibited at the Aero in Friedrichshafen 12 years ago, at that time we were still laughed at because our maximum flying time with the electric drive was about 25 minutes. But we have been able to improve every year. Today we can offer flight times of about 2 hours, which are of course caused by the batteries. With aerodynamically well built planes the maximum flight time is even about 4 hours. This is sufficient for sports flying, but not yet for commercial aviation. But I am absolutely of the opinion that pure battery operation will also be feasible for aviation in the foreseeable future.

Where do you see the advantages of electric drive?

With the electric drive, there are many more possibilities to realize new flight applications. From a purely design point of view, the fuselages can be built much slimmer because the motors are smaller and the drives can be installed in a more distributed manner. In addition, electric motors are extremely available and have no pollutant emissions on site. Also the quieter and smoother flying, without disturbing engine noise and vibrations, especially in the UL range, is an argument that clearly speaks for the electric drive.

Compared to conventional engines, almost all maintenance intervals can be avoided, right?

Yes, that is correct. There are no service intervals in the conventional sense. We have nevertheless formulated guidelines in our manuals in which certain elements are to be checked. The special feature is that these checks can be carried out by the pilot himself, so they are visual checks. These are required by the certification authorities, as they want proof that regular checks are carried out. However, since the regulations and guidelines currently focus on internal combustion engines and not on electric motors, the authorities would actually have to do a lot of work on this.

What is the innovative character of your powertrains?

We now have a product range of 6 drive systems with a power output of between 12 and 50 KW. Whereby the peak powers, which are needed for the start for example, are a little higher, we go up to about 75 KW. In addition, we also develop the associated motor controllers and interfaces. At my home airfield, which is very close to our office, we have installed a solar system in 2014, so that we can fly there purely solar-powered. The "consumption" of the aircraft is now about 4KWh per 60 kilometers. Three-axle aircraft with our drive trains consume about 3-5 KWh per 100 kilometers. Other aircraft, with poorer aerodynamic properties, of course need a little more. To better classify this, a comparison to a medium electric vehicle is helpful, whose consumption is on average 16-18KWh/100 km.

The fuel-cell powered aircraft Antares.
© DLR German Aerospace Center
© DLR German Aerospace Center

Especially the range problem is often mentioned, why e-mobility has not yet fully arrived in the air. What possible solutions do you see?

Clearly the technical challenges are particularly urgent at the moment. There are already a number of projects to find possible solutions. I will call them bridging projects. For example, various hybrid projects, i.e. a combination of electric motor and combustion engine, and experiments are already being conducted with hydrogen-powered fuel cells. These efforts will be interim solutions until battery storage systems are even more advanced and more energy-rich. Apart from that, the current approval problems are also obstacles to development.

However, once the technical challenges have been solved, there will certainly be a completely electric drive for the longer ranges.

Many things have changed as a result of the global crisis, including mobility behaviour. The media propagate aviation as the loser of Corona. How do you counter this?

So far the crisis has had no effect on us or our current projects. We continue to work as before. However, I think it is likely that we will feel the effects with a time lag and that Corona will keep us busy for quite some time.

What will happen to Geiger Engineering now? What are the next steps? What are your goals in 2020?

We still have some exciting projects ahead this year, but I can't say much about them at the moment because some of them have been submitted for patent registration. We have also developed a completely new drive unit which is to be implemented this year. So we still have a lot of work ahead of us.

Thank you, Mr. Geiger, for your time and your insights into electric aviation!

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