1950s Airplanes Were More Electric

Farnborough Air Show » 2006
November 16, 2006, 7:48 AM

In the 1950s and 1960s, turboprop aircraft such as the Vickers Vanguard were more electric than 2006 in-production airplanes. The Vanguard had an electric anti-icing system. So had the Shorts Belfast in the 1960s. The Rolls-Royce Tyne-powered aircraft had eight 50-kVA generators–two per engine. They featured variable frequency (320-485 Hz). The Vickers Valiant bomber had electric landing gear actuation.

Later, the low power density of electric systems was one reason why they lost out to hydraulics in many systems. Hydraulics then enjoyed a dominant position for decades. However, research between 1980 and 2000 saw an increased interest in electric aircraft equipment systems. Studies on both sides of the Atlantic showed electric drives were heavy but this did not hinder numerous research projects. Aircraft manufacturers are now starting to reap the benefits of these early works. Electricity is gaining ground on airplanes such as the Airbus A380 and, above all, the Boeing 787.

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