First commercial flight of electric training aircraft

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty

Pipistrel has developed the Alpha Electro as part of the single seater WattsUp Horizon 2020 European project, and the dual seater aircraft received a Special Certificate of Airworthiness from Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) in October last year.

The Alpha Electro is the first electric aircraft that offers the possibility of PPL training and the first craft has been sold to Perth-based pilot training company Electro.Aero. It took off from Perth’s Jandakot Airport on January 4th and conducted two circuits around Jandakot, the fifth busiest airport in the southern hemisphere with more than 375,000 movements last year. It then went on to complete another seven hours of flying over the following two days before being handed over to Electro.Aero.

The aircraft was much quieter and cheaper to operate than equivalent-sized aircraft said Richard Charlton, finance director of Electro.Aero. “The main issue with petrol is the maintenance costs of what is a more complex engine,” he said. “The electric engine is really simple. It has one moving part, it’s a very small piece of equipment and it is a solid-state motor.”

“Technologies developed specially for this aircraft cut the cost of pilot training by as much as 70 percent, making flying more affordable than ever before,” said Ivo Boscarol, General Manager of Pipistrel. “The biggest advantage is being able to conduct training on smaller airfields closer to towns with zero CO2 emissions and minimum noise.”

The first Pipistrel electric aircraft flew in 2007 using a 30kW motor. A four seater, the Pipistrel Taurus G4, won the NASA Greenflight challenge in 2011 by travelling 403 pmpg (passenger-miles-per gallon).

In 2013 Pipistrel prepared three specialised electric propulsion kits for NASA. These kits are currently used at the NASA Armstrong facility for research in electric propulsion and propeller characterisation.

Next: Specification

The 85 kW electric motor in the Alpha Eletro weighs 14kg and is powered by a 17 kWh dual redundant battery pack that can be replaceable within minutes or charged in less than one hour through Pipistrel’s Battery Management system. The battery pack uses a custom lithium polymer structure with 10Ah per cell and 128 cells per pack.

Siemens was also part of the origonal development, providing the motor. “Siemens is developing electric drive systems with highest power-to-weight ratio for aircraft propulsion,” said  Frank Anton, Executive Vice President Traction Drives and the initiator of electric aircraft development at Large Drives, Siemens. “The innovations used in the WATTsUP will be instrumental in making aviation more sustainable in the long run. As electric drives are scalable, we can expect, that in the future also larger aircraft will use electric propulsion. The world is becoming electric, whether in the air, on land or at sea.”

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