Electric Planes | What Future Holds ?

What kind of future are we heading towards? Is it possible that short flights with an electric aircraft will become commonplace? 

Electric vehicles depend upon the battery and good news is battery technology is finally starting to improve. It is just touching the state where a fully electric aircraft has just become feasible for some application mainly flight training and short distance travel. 

The aircraft in question is the Pipistrel Alpha Electro, founded in 1989. Paper Straw is a company based in Slovenia that specialises in manufacturing light aircraft categorised as a light sports aircraft and only weighing 350 Kilograms including batteries. 

The Alpha Electro is the first fully electric aircraft certified for flight training. The cost of a new aircraft is about a hundred thousand US dollars. On board, there is a 20-kilowatt-hour battery which translates to a flight time of over an hour plus reserve. This makes flight training the perfect application if needed the batteries can be swapped out in 5 minutes. The electric motor that powers the aircraft is 60 kilowatts and only weighs 11 kilograms. Because the plane is so light it can literally be pushed and dragged around by one person easily. Unlike a regular petrol light aircraft which uses 50-year-old engine technology with hundreds of moving parts, the Alpha Electro has only one moving part and hence the aircraft is safer and much easier to fly. There is only an on switch and a throttle lever to operate the engine. Normally the engine operation would be much more complicated with tasks such as mixing fuel on the fly. 

The company that got delivery of this aircraft is Electro. Aero in Perth Western Australia. Electro. Aero hopes to carry out a pilot flight training at fraction of the cost of regular aircraft because there are no fuel costs and very very fewer maintenance costs and the status quo. Right now it cost about $3 per hour to run the aircraft and that’s about a tenth of the cost of a fuel engine the result cuts the rate of flight training by about $90 per hour in comparison ta a plane like a Cessna 172. During the first 40 hours of lessons, an aspiring pilot could save over $1000.  

Now it was time for first of these aircraft to arrive in the southern hemisphere the Alpha Electro came in a shipping container from Slovenia where it had been manufactured. An aircraft coming in plastic wrapped pieces were certainly something unusual and it distinctly likes unboxing a brand new BMW car. It only took a couple of hours to assemble all the part and it was pretty painless and it was ready to go. Electra Aero is the first company in the world to have this aircraft certified even before anyone in the United States and Canada. That makes this aircraft the very fast certified electric plane in the world.

The Aeroplane has two battery compartments, each compartment stores a 10-kilowatt-hour battery. So both combine aeroplane gets an hour of flight time give or take and it gives us redundancy. So if one of the batteries fails the other battery can keep flying aircraft and to bring the aircraft down. As we are using the electric engine so it takes a small size quite compact you can say. Charger port is at the front which is similar to the Tesla. The Alpha Electro has an EPSI and a Garmin GPS that’s a capacitive touchscreen. The Alpha Electro is fitted with the ballistic parachute that means that in the event of a control system failure or a catastrophic airframe failure in which you couldn’t slide down, you can pull the big red handle and it will lunch a rocket out of the roof of the airframe and will pull a parachute out. Then it will float down to the ground.      

How it feels to fly inside an Electric Planes?

 If you have taken a flight inside any light aircraft it’s basically like that but the views are batter because the windows are unusually big. That aside the main thing you will notice is noise or lack thereof. It’s a lot quieter than the average petrol plane most of the noise is from the propeller itself and the air rushing past the cockpit as you are flying. 

Four to Six seated electric aircraft are under development for commercializing use as air taxis. Because air taxis at the moment using petrol engine aircraft that are designed for longer flights, but only being used for  10 to 15 minutes flights that means the engines are being started and stopped much more often than that normally designed for therefore much more wear and tear on the engine and a lot higher maintenance expense and cycles. In electric it does not matter how many times you start and stop the motor, It’s not having a major thermal cycle every time and does not have hundreds of moving parts. It only has one rotating part and direct drive no gearbox, so the short hop flight of sub one hour are perfect for electric. The batteries can already do it and the maintenance is not affected by the thermal cycle as in petrol engine.

As I have already said Battery technology plays an important role here. So until the best infrastructure in the place and battery energy density improves, for now, it’s only really flighted that is the optimum use case for electric planes.

I see longer flight applications being about Two to Five years away, so, all in all, it’s interesting state that we are at right now. We are definitely at the beginning of something new.

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