Electric Trainer Breaks the Flight Barrier

May 28, 2016


Business Insider:

A small Denver, Colorado, manufacturer has rolled out the first prototype of a new all-electric aircraft, suggesting that the same revolution currently sweeping through the auto industry may soon become airborne.

The Sun Flyer, the brainchild of engineer and pilot George Bye and his Aero Electric Aircraft Corp. (AEAC), is designed to be the perfect training aircraft with three hours of endurance and a 30-minute recharging time.

The change could very soon have profound effects on general aviation — a term for the world of private and non-airline aviation — and, one day, proper airlines.

Energy costs for an hour of flight training could be as little as $1, while maintenance costs on an engine with a single moving part could be significantly lower, Bye told Business Insider.

The aircraft has yet to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration, a long, exhaustive process that Bye believes will be completed within three years.

He also estimates that the final unit cost will initially be about $250,000 per aircraft.

That may sound like a lot for a small, two-seat aircraft, but a new, gasoline-powered Cessna 172 — long the standard in flight training — costs around $300,000, and most flight schools will charge more than $100 per hour for renting one and at least $30 per hour for instruction.


Business Insider:

Electric power is the future of flight, according to Airbus, which has teamed up with Daher-Socata to start production of small, battery-powered airplanes for the flight-training market.

On the success of the first public flight of the E-Fan prototype early last year, the two companies plan to design, develop, and certify the E-Fan 2.0, a two-seat training aircraft, by 2017.

Airbus says it intends this airplane to be the first in a line that will lead to bigger, more capable electric-powered aircraft, culminating in a 90-seat regional airliner that could fly with all-electric or hybrid propulsion by 2050.

The E-Fan 2.0 will be able to fly for about an hour, which is long enough for flight lessons but not for most personal flying. Batteries can be swapped out for recharging, so the airplane will not have to spend time at a charging station.

The next version, the E-Fan 4.0, will be a four-seater designed for longer range and may have a hybrid propulsion system. Electric-powered airplanes have recently generated a lot of interest in the aviation industry due to their quiet operation, lack of vibration, ease of maintenance, environmental friendliness, and low operating costs. Airbus has said it hopes to build a fleet of at least 100 E-Fan 2.0 aircraft to collect statistical data that will help with future designs.

10 Responses to “Electric Trainer Breaks the Flight Barrier”

  1. Electric two and four seater aircraft have become viable now with the latest generation of batteries. However, there is no battery on the horizon that, for a comparable weight, gets anywhere near the energy density of a litre of aviation fuel.

    The difference between today’s batteries used to power this trainer and those required for a viable future airliner, even short-haul, is a thousand times greater in terms of R&D than the difference between old fashioned lead-acid cells and the latest generation lithium-ion batteries.

    So the idea that this light-weight trainer shows the way ahead to electric-powered air travel is rather stretching credulity. It’s about the same difference in research effort as between the Montgolfier Brothers inventing the first hot air balloon and the first man orbiting the planet.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Well said. This goes beyond simply “stretching credulity”, though, and a better question would be to ask why humans do so much flying anyway. Birds HAVE to do it—-we do not.

      One plus, however. That nice couple out in Idaho can now add Solar Runways to their Solar Roadway product line and suck up more $$$ that could be better spent on more practical efforts.

      (And what I’m really waiting for is the nuclear-powered airplane—they’ve been talking about it since I was a kid in the 1940’s—would only need to be refueled every couple of years).

      • The reference to nuclear-powered aircraft brings up a good point. The eco-modernists work on the basis that humans are so clever that with enough R&D resources we can invent our way out of any problem that confronts us (hence battery-powered training aircraft point the way to battery-powered air travel). In reality history shows us that ideas that we were once convinced would soon happen (flying cars, nuclear-powered planes, nuclear fusion) are no nearer being realised; while other developments we thought fanciful have come out of the blue so fast they’ve left us reeling (personal computers, digital cameras, smart phones).

        The moral is that it makes sense to confront problems with the proven technology currently at our disposal, not assume that it will be possible to develop solutions when needed. That’s not to say we won’t find answers to some of our problems, just that we shouldn’t bank on them coming over the hill to save the day.

  2. Thanks for the plug, Peter. I just might start flying planes for fun again. 😀 Meantime, I plan to get back into soaring (gliders) when I have more money coming in.

  3. Another possible niche market — electric powered sailplanes. For sailplane pilots, the ability to launch without an expensive tow would be a huge win. And for days with strong lift, the electric motor would need to be run for just a short time (takeoff/launch), even for very long flights.

    Add solar panels to the wings for in-flight battery recharging to extend the battery life. That would provide more supplemental power that could reduce the chances of having to “land out” in a rough field (“land outs” can cause very-expensive-to-repair damage to fiberglass/composite sailplanes).

    I’ll bet that the additional cost of the electric power plant could easily be recouped over the life of the sailplane in tow-cost and insurance savings. (Hull insurance, especially for non-powered sailplanes that don’t always make it back to the airstrip, can be expensive.)

  4. redskylite Says:

    For more muscle and less carbon footprint another old technology has revived, with Lockheed Martin one of the engineers, developers and builder. Too slow for the modern jet setting executive maybe, but ideal for freight especially in remote sites. We have to do this, relying on what we know and have now, any major technology breakthroughs would be icing on the cake. Other advancements include battery assisted flight, used for taxiing and of course biofuels, also much improved aircraft engine efficiency. NASA has been assisting robustly in all these developments.

    “It wasn’t until the concept of hybrids were introduced that I began to believe that airships could truly revolutionise the way cargo and people could be transported across the world. They needed to be reliable, robust, efficient and require as little permanent infrastructure as possible. ”


  5. […] a number of electric planes are entering the market. Most of these early entrants are short range light aircraft intended for use as trainers, or for […]

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