Defining What “Hybrid” Means for Aviation: Meet Project 804

At United Technologies, disruption runs deep. By pushing the boundaries of innovation, our founders created products that defined industries and transformed entire cities. But now, as the pace of technological change accelerates, we’re embracing a new approach to innovation. Instead of just disrupting the world around us, we’re taking a look in the mirror.
Project 804

That’s why we recently launched the advanced projects group within United Technologies, a Skunk Works-like organization at the heart of UTC that disrupts from within. The advanced projects group moves at intense speed to build and pilot ambitious product and service demonstrators while simultaneously distilling UTC’s curious and collaborative culture. 
 
“Our goal is to help UTC think and act like a startup,” said Jason Chua, executive director, advanced projects, United Technologies. “Once we identify areas where we might be vulnerable to disruption or opportunities where we can leverage our strengths, we sprint to a minimum viable product (MVP) and, ultimately, execute with the speed of new and more nimble competitors.”
 
Today, we introduce the group’s first product demonstrator – a hybrid-electric X-plane under the project name, “Project 804." The namesake number "804" represents the straight-line mileage between the Pratt & Whitney facility in Longueuil, Québec, and the Collins Aerospace facility in Rockford, Illinois.
 
The X-plane will be based on a Bombardier Dash 8 Series Q100 aircraft. Given UTC will not be partnering with an airframer, this aircraft made the most sense and best matched the specs as defined by Project 804’s pre-project calculations. This aircraft has the right power levels and mission needs that are well suited for a parallel hybrid application.  
 
The plane will be re-engined on one side with a 2 megawatt-class propulsion system combining an engine, sized for cruise power, and a similarly sized electric motor adding supplemental power during takeoff.
 
Its hybrid-electric propulsion system is expected to yield an average fuel savings of 30 percent, effectively making regional flights as practical as a Greyhound bus trip. The roughly 600 pound demonstrator is expected to feature a mission range of approximately 600 nautical miles. The X-plane’s first flight is currently planned less than three years from now.
 
“We’re working on a highly aggressive timeline because we believe the electrification of flight is a massive opportunity,” said Jean Thomassin, the project director of Project 804. “It’s an ambitious target but, given our talented team and UTC’s technical acumen, it’s achievable.”
 
Jean leads Project 804’s dedicated technical team, which draws support from the world-leading experts at Pratt & Whitney, Collins Aerospace and the research organization within United Technologies, as well as top external talent. Having spent more than 20 years developing flight technologies at Pratt & Whitney Canada, Jean has the technical chops needed to lead the team making hybrid-electric flight a reality.
 
Jean is joined by Greg Winn, who comes to Project 804 after a 10-year tenure at Collins Aerospace.
 
“For all intents and purposes, we’re gutting a plane, leveraging expertise from across the company to develop new technology, and installing that tech into the plane to revolutionize the future of aerospace,” said Greg. “This is hands down one of the most exciting projects that I’ve had the chance to work on during my career at UTC.”
 
At its core, Project 804 is itself a disruptive undertaking; however, it’s the first of many advanced projects that will help catalyze a wave of innovation across UTC. As a result, the projects will leverage UTC’s existing expertise and ways of working while seeding the startup mindset to explore brave new concepts.
 
There is certainly more to come. To learn more, visit UTC’s advanced projects site.

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