Electric Airplanes Are Poised To Take Off
Taking flying lessons in the past, was noisy, loud and not so fun. But the race is on to change that, with electric trainers that are clean, vibration-free, and cheap to operate.
Electric aviation has been in experimental development for years, but now a US startup, European aerospace giant Airbus, and a Chinese aviation manufacturer are among those who believe electric airplanes are ready for the mainstream. If they make it happen, it could get a lot cheaper—and more pleasant—to learn to fly.
“Electric airplanes will change everything when it comes to the cost of flying,” says George Bye, a Colorado-based serial entrepreneur who’s been involved in several aviation projects. His new company, Aero Electric Aircraft Corporation, plans to have its two-seat Sun Flyer ready for flight testing by the summer. The solar cells on the wings provide a little extra juice, and if you park the plane in the sun for a few days, they’ll fully charge the battery for free. This is just one example of the advancement in aerospace hardware that is coming in recent years.
Taking into account maintenance and fuel costs, the two-seat Sun Flyer will cost about $5 an hour to operate, according to Bye, compared to $73 an hour for a Cessna 172, a four-seat airplane frequently used for training. A new Sun Flyer will sell for about $180,000 to $200,000, which may sound like a lot, but a new 172 sells for about $370,000. “The bottom line is, we are interested in generating excitement about flying, and making it affordable,” says Bye.
Bye hopes to be the first to market in the US with an electric-powered training aircraft fully certified by the FAA, in 2017 or sooner. He’s not the only one in the race.
Electric aircraft are advancing in China as well, where construction has started on a plant that will manufacture two-seat Rui Xiang RX1E electric airplanes. The production line is expected to boot up early this year. The aircraft, developed at Shenyang Aerospace University, will fly as long as 90 minutes on a full charge. Private aviation has been slow to develop in China, where government rules make it difficult, but pressure is building to open the airways to promote economic development.
If battery costs continue to decline and electric planes can spend more time in the air, it will grow harder to make the case for gasoline engines, at least for the training market, where flights are brief and you don’t need more than two seats. Besides the clear cost advantage, electric flight is just smoother and quieter, and maintaining an electric airplane is a lot less trouble, thanks to fewer moving parts. I guess it is time to register for some flying lessons.