The Future of Electric Airplanes is Closer than You Think

  • Jul 18, 2014 5:40pm GMT

Is the cost of flying keeping you grounded? What if it only cost $8 per hour to fly a 2-seat airplane? Would that get you in the air more? Would that help you learn to fly?

Today, the technology exists to allow you to fly up to about two hours in an electric airplane. In a very short time, electric airplanes will be showing up at your local flight school or flying club, available to rent or buy.

This week at the Farnborough International Airshow, Airbus is demonstrating its E-Fan 2.0, an electric 2-seat airplane that will be available for sale in 2017. Airbus is using a novel ducted fan propulsion system, which is somewhat puzzling for such a small and slow airframe. Despite Airbus’s focus on giant airliners and military aircraft, it sees emerging demand for light electric airplanes, particularly for the training market. Airbus is also planning a 4-seat version called the E-Fan 4.0.

Greenwing International has begun selling its single-seat electric E-Spyder for just $39,900. Click for more information on E-Spyder. This airplane, which is based on the proven Sportstar Spyder designed by Tom Peghiny, provides more than 40 minutes of endurance. What a fun way to spend a Sautrday afternoon!

Greenwing has also developed the E430 two-seat electric airplane. The airplane will be available for sale soon. It will meet all of the ASTM requirements for light sport aircraft (LSA). This is going to be a fantastic weekend cruiser or training airplane and I think it will be available far before the Airbus E-Fan 2.0. More information here. The first flight was more than four years ago. Since that time, the developer has made many improvements to the design through hundreds of hours of flight testing on multiple airframes.

Aero Electric Aircraft Corporation is developing the two-seat Sun Flyer LSA, in partnership with Bye Aerospace and PC Aero GmbH. PC Aero has been testing the single-seat Elektra One since 2011. The Sun Flyer will incorporate solar cells on the wings to enhance its endurance. Led by industry veterans Charlie Johnson and George Bye, I expect the Sun Flyer prototype will fly on schedule in 2014. More information here.

Pipstrel, the prolific glider and LSA maker from Slovenia, has several electric airplanes either in the works or ready for delivery. These include the Taurus Electro and the Panthera, which will be a four-seat airplane available with multiple powertrains, including a hybrid and an all-electric version.

Clearly, the technology is here. The airplanes have been designed and tested. So what are we waiting for?

One major issue is that the current FAA LSA rule only allows piston-powered airplanes. Electric power is not yet a part of the rule. The FAA recently published a 322-page draft policy regarding airworthiness. Page 293 specifically suggests that electric power is only appropriate for single-seat airplanes, not for carrying passengers. I think that the FAA will quickly be persuaded that this is a silly notion. As soon as the LSA rule includes electric power, the floodgates will open!