Cake
  • Log In
  • Sign Up
    • The Pipistrel Alpha Electro is a new all-electric battery powered small plane that's apparently primarily intended for use as a flight school trainer.

      Batteries are heavy though, so the Alpha Electro only has a 20 kWh battery pack, which is enough for an hour of flight (plus an additional 30 minutes of pants-shitting terror if you dip into the reserve). But that's apparently enough time to make it useful as a trainer, and it's less expensive to operate and maintain than a combustion-powered plane.

      Sounds compelling, but I wonder how much of a future there is for battery-powered aircraft. Unless batteries get a lot lighter or a lot more power-dense, it doesn't seem like they'll be feasible as a power source for anything that needs to stay in the air for more than a couple of hours, or that needs to carry lots of people or cargo.

    • This is fascinating. Logically these planes have very similar limitations to consumer drones, but some advantages in that they can travel further. I wonder if we may see these used at some point soon to replace the conventional biplanes used for shows like Planet Earth.

      I'm afraid of heights so you won't see me flying one :)

    • The cost of operation is also extremely low (~$3 per flight at $0.15 per kWh) and the battery pack can be charged fairly quickly thanks to its small size or it can be swapped for rapid turnaround.

      Private aviation has always been extremely expensive. Compare to fuel costs of a similar piston engine plane, the Censsna 172. At 10 gallons an hours with avgas now averaging something like $6 a gallon, the Alpha Electro energy cost is fractions of its carbon burning counterpart. I'm not sure how maintenance, battery replacements, and depreciation compare. That's Tesla like, in fact the gas-electric cost differential is much larger in the air due to the absurd price of leaded avgas.

      Though I don't think you're going to find a luxurious interior with a 12.3 inch multimedia center in the Alpha Electro. Surely it doesn't have collision detection and it's not going from 0...60mph on the tarmac in less than 5 seconds. So maybe this is the Nissan Leaf of the skies? 😉

    • 30 years ago I quit flying because I couldn't justify the cost. I thought someday I'd get into ultralights (when they came out) so I could pay less to go nowhere slowly. Now all I need to do is convince my wife I won't die this way. Oh well :).

    • Flight school planes are often scheduled back to back so to be viable the batteries would have to be quickly swappable by a layperson - not a mechanic.

      As an owner of two planes the idea of electric airplanes is intriguing not so much for the cost of fuel, but for reduced maintenance. My largest cost by far is hangar rent, but number two is maintenance. Frankly, internal combustion airplane engines are stone aged garbage compared to modern auto or motorcycle engines. Stuck rings, stuck valves, worn cylinders, oil leaks - it's always something. It's hard to beat an electric motor for low maintenance.

    • Maybe my description is a bit dramatic. It's amazing how well they tolerate failure. People have made it back to the airport with an entire cylinder missing. Stuck valves are very common. I had a piston ring break a few years ago and despite a loss of compression in that cylinder I only noticed a 50 RPM drop.
      They have all the technology of a 1930's tractor but keep running even after some substantial things have gone wrong. But I'd rather they didn't break in the first place.

      All the good stuff in the general aviation world ends up in experimental homebuilt planes because of the different certification rules allowed by the FAA. The experimental guys are especially fortunate in their access to electronics. They get to use low cost, cutting edge electronics for engine management and flight instruments that would make flying safer but is too expensive to certify.

    You've been invited!