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Further testing will follow to qualify and measure its dynamic flying behaviour, aimed at understanding the advantages of this Distributed Electric Propulsion technology for large passenger aircraft, The Royal Netherlands Aerospace Centre (NLR) writes in a press release. A reduction of 20% energy consumption should be feasible for the full-scale aircraft.

A scaled model of a new configuration aircraft with distributed electric propulsion (DEP) successfully completed its maiden flight from Aeroporto di Taranto-Grottaglie in the south of Italy. The aircraft with a wingspan of 4 metres, a take-off mass of 167 kg, and a cruise speed of 100 knots, took off, completed a ten minute flight, including an approach just over the runway, and landed successfully. Subsequent flights will aim to qualify the aircraft for measurement flights, during which dynamic manoeuvres will be executed. Through these efforts, we shall learn about the feasibility to harvest the benefits of DEP technology for large passenger aircraft.

Remote control

The scaled model flight in Italy was conducted by Royal NLR – Netherlands Aerospace Centre, with the aircraft being remotely controlled. The pilot commands the aircraft from a ground-based ‘cockpit’, aided by a tail-mounted camera providing visual feedback alongside instrument readings to guide navigation.

The objective of the flight is to explore the potential of DEP technology for the application in large passenger aircraft using less energy in a flight. The scaled flight testing will focus on the dynamic aspects of the technology. Questions to be addressed include: Which control algorithms yield the most significant benefits? Can the aircraft be effectively controlled through differential thrust on the propulsors, and how does the aircraft respond dynamically to external stimuli?


Within the European Programme Clean Sky 2, a collaborative effort involving industry, universities, and research centres aims to mature disruptive technologies that will enable significant reductions in energy consumption. The European civil aviation sector has committed to achieving a climate-neutral air transportation system by 2050, and distributed electric propulsion can contribute to that. Large passenger aircraft with DEP can fly missions with more than a 20% reduction in current average energy consumption using the technology as has been calculated in the Clean Sky 2 programme, making the propulsion much more efficient. To reduce the risk and cost of the development of such an innovative technology the scaled flight testing technique is applied.