Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Electric aircraft making progress?

NBAA has seen its fair share of announcements this week: Cessna launched the Citation Ten, Beech two new aeroplanes, NetJets orders for a huge number of Phenom 300s and Garmin a new avionics suite aimed at high-level business aviation.

That's a lot of good news, but there was another update that could have easily been missed by the men in suits. Cessna and Bye aviation told everyone that they were making progress on their proof-of-concept electric C172. It looks like first flight may well be in April next year (Sun 'n Fun anyone?).

Right now, the electric options are a bit limited, both in terms of choice and performance. Chinese company Yuneec is currently heading the field with a two-seat prototype and a self-launching motor glider. The company also has a range of engines available to power powered parachutes. Lange Aviation in Germany has the Antares motor glider, powered by the world's only EASA certified electric motor, but it would be fair to say that neither Yuneec nor Lange have made the mass market breakthrough.

Based on my recent performance, I should probably avoid predictions, but there's no doubt that the car industry is spending huge sums on electrical propulsion and battery technology. If aviation can somehow take advantage of that, it could provide a bright new future...

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