Europeans are serious about electric-powered airplanes (news from AERO)

Some excerpts from the AOPA coverage of AERO, the big European aviation event:

Magnus Aircraft eFusion: This is a joint effort between Hungarian airframer Magnus Aircraft Corp. and Germany’s industrial giant Siemens, which provides its SSP-55D, 75-horsepower electric motor. The eFusion’s lithium-ion battery can power the airplane for 40 minutes of flight and needs an hour to fully recharge. This experimental, 110-knot two-seat design—which made its first public flight at AERO—is but one offering on display.

ΦNIX: This Czech-built motorglider uses a 60-kilowatt/80-hp electric motor for self-launches as well as other phases of flight, and under power can cruise at 108 knots and fly as long as 2.5 hours on a single charge of its lithium-ion battery. Maximum glide ratio is 1:32. It can be ordered with wingspans of 11 or 15 meters.

Antares E2: This is not a true general aviation airplane, but its features are noteworthy. Built by Germany’s Lange Research GmbH, this six-motor design has a 75-foot wingspan, can cruise at 135 knots, and has a 40-hour endurance. Intended for use in surveillance roles, the E2 uses six methanol-powered fuel cells and dual batteries in a hybrid propulsion setup that generates enough power to provide ice protection of leading edges and enough energy to drive radars and other high-end surveillance gear. It has a 3,638-lb max takeoff weight, can hold 660 pounds of methanol in two underwing pods, and carry a payload of 440 pounds.

(The last one would be an awesome replacement for the Predator; see “The Predator drone is not an ambi-turner” for how the lack of anti-icing was one reason that the U.S. military abandoned the machine.)

Of course the least exciting news is always about aircraft that are real and flying:

Pipistrel Alpha Electro: This two-seat trainer is powered by a 60 kW/80-hp electric motor and can fly for an hour on a single charge of its lithium ion battery. Six airplanes have recently been exported to the United States. Four of these will serve as trainers under the CALSTART program for disadvantaged and unemployed youth at the Mendota and Reedley, California airports, and the other two are owned by Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum in Los Angeles. … these Alpha Electros have been signed off to legally fly, even though the FAA’s light sport airplane (LSA) rules don’t quite yet endorse electrically powered flight. “Procedural changes to LSA rules allowing electrically powered aircraft have already been made internally by the FAA,” Coates said. “And now the new rules are on the way to being published.” Coates says 50 percent of the cost of the CALSTART airplanes is being funded by pollution penalties paid to the California government by Volkswagen. The terms of a Volkswagen illegal-emissions settlement require that more than $1 billion be invested in a California “green fund” to benefit environmentally friendly projects. Price of the Alpha Electro is $118,000, which includes a charger. Six more are on the way to California customers.

The students flying these world’s-most-advanced training aircraft are currently “unemployed.” In other words, they are young Americans who can’t get organized, in one of the tightest labor markets in U.S. history, to walk down to McDonald’s at 3 pm and start an evening shift. The California officials, however, have decided to train them for a job that requires getting up at 4:30 am.

Another interesting bit of news is that Piper will be making a diesel-powered version of its venerable Seminole twin trainer. These will be powered by an engine design that started life as a Mercedes car engine and was adapted for aviation by Thielert, which was bought out of bankruptcy by Continental. It is an obviously great idea that has never made any money. Keep this in mind (and your checkbook closed) if you ever hear an aviation business idea pitch!

14 thoughts on “Europeans are serious about electric-powered airplanes (news from AERO)

  1. Sounds like a great way to make a million dollars. (No comment on how much you start with)

    Don’t these silly Europeans understand we have to wait for such gifts from the Gods to come from Elon Musk?

  2. Also why is it perfectly rational to make fun of red state small businessman, farmers and tradesman for acting like temporarily downtrodden millionaires while at the same time they are assuming unemployed youth in an economy that is theoretically fully employed are temporarily set back pilots?

  3. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is the captain speaking. We have reached our cruising altitude of 33,000 feet. It has been a great feel good, green flight to nowhere hasn’t it? Please fasten your seat belts; it’s time to return for a landing. .”

    Electric airplanes are RETARDED because each kg of Li-Ion batteries is worth about 0.7 MJ of energy compared to 43 MJ for jet A Kerosene. Even when you take into account that modern large turbofans like the GEnx are only about 40% thermally efficient whereas electric motors are better than 90% efficient, it means that a fossil fuel powered aircraft will fly 27 times further for the same fuel load.

    A Boeing 777 with Li-Ion batteries will go 272 nm instead of 7,370nm . So instead of flying from Los Angeles to Bangkok, you won’t even make it to San Francisco. Congratulations!

    Only the Global Warming hogwash drinkers will spend money on electric airplanes. Unfortunately, there are plenty of such morons in Europe.

  4. Dwight: A Boeing 777 is an awesome machine, but a little too complex for use as a primary trainer (even for “disadvantaged and unemployed youth” who are full of promise). Are you sure that an electric-powered trainer is a bad idea? Nobody wants to fly for more than about one hour. Maintenance of piston aircraft engines is a dying (literally) art. Every 2000 hours you have to throw out the piston engine ($40,000+ to replace with an overhauled or factory reman engine). The vibration and noise of the piston engine makes for an unpleasant in-cabin experience. Look also at the labor cost of a flight school or local FBO having to train and employ someone to pump gas (even driving a truck around an airport without hitting aircraft is a challenge for young American workers).

  5. Also consider pollution. The 1950s-design engine in a Cessna or Cirrus is just as clean as a car engine… from the 1950s. Why frack and then burn leaded gasoline when we could instead send our cash to Germany (for the engine) and Slovenia (for the airframe; Melania Trump’s homeland turns out to be super innovative in aviation!) and Quebec (for clean hydropower)?

  6. philg: An the same regulations which make you throw out a piston engine after 2000 hours (far less than an engine in a car or a bus reliably lasts) will not make you throw out an electric motor? Also, in an internal combustion engine (or a brayton cycle turbine for that matter) the powerplant is the wear and tear component and the cost center for maintenance purposes. In an electric propulsion unit, the battery is. A Li-Ion battery lasts about 300 to 600 cycles before losing ~50% of its capacity. And, large capacity batteries are very expensive. A 90 KWh battery will run you About $15,000 to $20,000 yeah… that is as much if not more than a piston engine.

    If all you want is a cheap, slow, underpowered, trainer a much better solution comes from cheap single stage micro-turbines. Yeah, basically a glorified turbocharger with a combustor between the compressor and the turbine wheels. These are simpler than an electric motor. Lighter than an electric motor. And, there is no need for a heavy and costly battery with a very finite life. Remember the Cricri jet? That’s way better than some bullshit electric plane you have to charge for hours between flights and carries more battery mass than passengers.

  7. Somebody is wrong. These little trainers are not viable if the batteries only last 300-600 cycles. So is it spectator Mr Looi or manufacturer Pipistrel?

  8. If the pipistrel taurus electro cost half of what it does, I’d be ordering immediately. They even have a trailer that will charge it! It looks like fun!

  9. dwight: Good point on the battery pack cycle life. I hadn’t thought about that. A replacement 320 Wh (not KWh!) battery for my Trek electric bicycle is $819. But maybe the crazy ramp-up in electric car battery production will result in dramatically cheaper and/or more cycle-tolerant batteries?


    suggest that there are already technologies available at lab scale.

    (Also, the 2000-hour TBO recommendation from piston engine manufacturers is not a regulatory requirement, but more of a practical one. One can legally run beyond the 2000-hour recommendation, at least for flight school or personal use, but the engine is extremely unlikely to be problem-free to, say, 3000 hours. Car engines are not directly comparable because (a) they are much more advanced, technologically, and (b) they don’t run most of the time at 75 percent of max power. What would 75% power be in a car? 110 miles per hour? That’s 220,000 miles in 2000 hours. I think you’d be lucky to get 220,000 miles out of a car engine that spent most of its life pushing the car pretty close to its top speed (power required goes as velocity cubed, right?). The engine in a Robinson R44 is recommended to run for 2,200 hours rather than 2,000 hours becuase, unlike the same engine in an airplane (100 percent power at takeoff), it should never get beyond about 80 percent power.)

  10. Phil, I second J Peterson’s suggestion. Whatever the economic and practical arguments, the questions of noise and motor responsiveness can only be truly understood by trying it out yourself. Electric motors are great for acceleration. I wonder how that would translate in the air. These are aesthetic questions requiring experiential answers.

    Like you need much of an excuse to go flying.

  11. Phil, i’ve read three times and still don’t see what job the disadvantaged youth are being trained for?
    At any rate, 4:30 am might be a good start time … game until 3am, then go into work.

    Hmmm, we bought a steering wheel accessory for the Dreamcast, but then decided against using it. Worried that the new driver in the house would use the winning strategy for Crazy Taxi out on the road.

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