Elon Musk hints at electric airplane

The disruptive executive is \'quite tempted\' to develop an electric VTOL jet.

Apparently not content with disrupting the automotive, energy and space transport industries, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk has now hinted at a potential foray into the aircraft business.

The ambitious executive for years has talked of the potential for aircraft to be powered by electricity. Power density has been the limiting factory, however lithium-ion batteries continue to deliver more watt-hours per kg as the technology matures.

"I have been thinking about the vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) electric jet a bit more," he said at a Q&A session for a Hyperloop design competition, according to a video spotted by Autoblog. "I think I have something that might close. I'm quite tempted to do something about it."

Companies, researchers, educational institutions and government agencies have been working on electric airplanes for decades. Nearly every example is propeller-driven, ranging from self-launching sailplanes to gigantic solar-powered UAVs. Many prototypes have performed proof-of-concept flights, including an electric Cessna 172, however limited range continues to represent the largest barrier to commercialization.

Musk has even bigger plans, arguing that the ideal long-distance transportation vehicle would be an electric jet capable of breaking the sound barrier and vertically taking off or landing. It is unclear if his idea for VTOL capabilities centers around swiveling engines (V-22 Osprey), thrust vectoring (AV-8B Harrier II) or another approach.

Whatever idea Musk has in mind, it will presumably require much higher power densities than batteries used in the Tesla Model S or Model 3 to have any chance at competing with fossil-fuel engines for commercial air transport.

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