Helping build a sustainable revolution with Project DragonFly

Airbus presenting sustainable aviation strategy during Aeronautical Engineering Alumni event.

  • Date: October 16, 2019
  • Event: Alumni event
  • Special guest: Manager product strategy from Airbus
Dozens of aircraft builders — young and old — gathered at Inholland in Delft on Thursday last week. Not just to chat over a beer during the alumni get-together about the sustainable plans Airbus had just presented, but most of all to marvel at the DragonFly, Inholland’s very first electric aircraft in the making. A gift from Aviodrome, students will rise to the challenge to finish building the experimental sport aircraft and ultimately get it in the air.
On the same day that Greenpeace announced a major demonstration at Schiphol to protest the pollution caused by the aviation sector, here in Delft we are witnessing how the aircraft industry is working towards a sustainable future. At the invitation of the Aeronautical Engineering alumni association, many current and former students, lecturers and representatives of the aviation and space travel industry gathered to hear Harry Beetsma’s talk. Beetsma graduated in 1991 with a degree in Aircraft Construction from Hogeschool Haarlem, a legal predecessor of Inholland University of Applied Sciences. After Delft University of Technology, he was hired by Airbus, where he is currently the head of product strategy and based in Toulouse.

Continued but sustainable growth
In his presentation about electric flying and energy transition, Beetsma showed how the demand for flights and planes will continue to massively increase in the coming decades. Consequently, continuing to fly in the conventional way is irresponsible, if not unthinkable, certainly in the long term. The Inholland alumnus explained in detail what Airbus is doing and still plans to do to combat CO2 and nitrogen oxide emissions and to limit noise pollution. He mentioned, among other things, the development of aircraft that use cleaner biofuels and the construction of fully electric or hybrid devices. ‘Our challenge is to continue to grow, but in a sustainable way’.

‘A cool adventure for students’
With a view of the DragonFly, Inholland’s new electric aircraft in the making, Harry Beetsma took a moment during the reception to let Arnold Koetje, programme manager of Inholland Composites, bring him up to speed. ‘To us, the gift from Aviodrome was an opportunity for a really amazing adventure. Let’s take that lightweight aircraft and do a concept study of what is required to get it flying. Electrically, that is; there are a lot of opportunities for electrification in the general aviation sector. Our goal is to present our prototype aircraft at the Paris Air Show two years from now. This project is an incredibly cool adventure for students, and it offers real opportunities to develop yourself as an engineer, to help bring about a revolution.’


I see a really wonderful group of motivated people here in Aeronautical Engineering. We are always interested in that at Airbus, of course!

Harry Beetsma

head of product strategy, Airbus

‘It is very important to see that educational institutions like Inholland are interested in technology in which we at Airbus are also interested’, Beetsma replied, who frequently participated in similar projects involving companies, students and educational institutions in the past. ‘In demo projects like this, you learn how to deal with problems that you don’t encounter when, say, you are doing simulations on the computer. And if, like here, you can learn things when a new technology is emerging, then you are also at the tip of the spear. Moreover, during these types of projects – which was also my own experience at the institute of technology – you will often find the entry points for your future career. And I see a really wonderful group of motivated people here in Aeronautical Engineering. We are always interested in that at Airbus, of course.’

Research into the construction
Over by the DragonFly, which was given a prominent place in the Inholland Composites laboratory for the occasion, Aeronautical Engineering students Randy van Ruijven, Patrick Lamers and Jitse Bos enjoyed the attention that ‘their’ plane garnered from the many interested guests, even though the DragonFly is not able to do much at the moment. Together with project leader Mark Ommert, a recent graduate of the same programme, the students are first conducting research, for example into the construction. Randy:This aircraft was stored in a warehouse for years, and is made of composite that was never finished. We must first investigate whether there may be damage to the construction that we cannot see, for example. But it will be fine, I am sure of it. If a wing is not okay, then we can build it. Here we have an autoclave [composite oven – ed.], the knowledge and students who are keen to learn and build.’

Randy is also enthusiastic about helping build the future. ‘I am firmly convinced that we will be seeing short flights using electric aircraft within ten years.’ And the aviation sector simply has to change. This also suits an industry that has always been at the forefront of innovation. Electric propulsion is the next big thing!’

I am firmly convinced that we will be seeing short flights using electric aircraft within ten years.

Randy van Ruijven

Aeronautical Engineering student, Inholland Delft