Electric Trainer Breaks the Flight Barrier
May 28, 2016
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.
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.