Aerospace & Defense

Project Zero electric helicopter by AgustaWestland on show at Singapore Airshow

AgustaWestland introduces electric helicopter at Singapore Airshow
AgustaWestland introduces electric helicopter at Singapore Airshow

The helicopter of the future is going electric, but it's waiting on carmakers to design the battery.

Project Zero, which is billed as the first all-electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, is on display at the Singapore Airshow, offering a glimpse at a tilt-rotor "concept."

Built by AgustaWestland, a unit of Italy's Finmeccanica, it aims to eliminate the use of fuel. This would open the possibility of using the aircraft in low-to-no oxygen environments, which could range anywhere from getting close to active volcanos to use on Mars, James Wang, AgustaWestland's senior vice-president of helicopters and services marketing, told CNBC.

Finmeccanica: APAC is key for us
Finmeccanica: APAC is key for us

Internal combustion engines require oxygen to run, but an electric motor doesn't, Wang explained. Eventually, he hopes the aircraft can be self-charging, using the rotors as windmills.

But it's not getting to Mars quite yet.

Its current range is around 10 minutes of flight, Wang said. But he was hopeful that within a decade, automakers would have advanced the development of electric batteries to the point that Project Zero will travel for around 100 minutes.

News and views from the Singapore Airshow 2016

The prototype, called a convertiplane, didn't even fly into the airshow. AugustaWestland disassemble the wings and sent it by sea in two shipping containers.

It's also not exactly a passenger craft, currently sized to carry only a single pilot or to be used unmanned.

AgustaWestland is currently working on a hybrid version of the engine, combining electric with diesel to extend the flight range to as much as an hour, Wang said.

Correction: The helicopter company behind Project Zero is AgustaWestland.

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