Purdue University Graduate School
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posted on 2023-04-24, 16:53 authored by Ethan Charles WrightEthan Charles Wright

Beam-powered aircraft are a promising solution to reducing the air transportation system's operating costs and emissions due to their reliance on typically more efficient ground-based electricity sources.

However, modeling these aircraft is a non-trivial task due to their multi-disciplinary nature and the required interconnectedness between the aircraft, air transportation network, and power-beaming models.

This thesis establishes a methodology for holistically modeling beam-powered aircraft as a freight transportation asset in the context of their operating environment.

This methodology accounts for elements of aircraft conceptual design, the limits of power-beaming technology, and non-idealities associated with the air transportation network.

As a product of this methodology, this thesis also approximates beam-powered aircraft's economic and environmental feasibility based on current and future technological capabilities.

This work concludes that with an optimistic enough "engine absent" mass fraction and with sufficiently advanced technologies -- particularly with higher power density rectennas -- beam-powered aircraft are both economically and environmentally feasible, having a lower operating cost and emitting less carbon dioxide per ton-mile compared to current-day and near-future freight transportation aircraft.

More specifically, this work concludes that when using a simplified and more optimistic engine absent mass fraction model, power train specific power only needs to improve by a factor of 1.2-3.7 and rectenna power density only needs to improve by a factor of 20-30 compared to the baseline technologies considered in this work in order for beam-powered aircraft to be a feasible alternative to jet fuel powered aircraft in a freight transportation role.

However, with a more pessimistic albeit more realistic engine absent mass fraction model, this work concludes that beam-powered aircraft are not feasible in a freight transportation role with the technology levels considered in this work.


Degree Type

  • Master of Science in Aeronautics and Astronautics


  • Aeronautics and Astronautics

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Daniel DeLaurentis

Additional Committee Member 2

William A. Crossley

Additional Committee Member 3

Leifur Leifsson