ERAU Electric Aircraft Reaches Milestone


Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s “eSpirit” electric aircraft has reached the taxi-test stage after four years of development. The Diamond HK-36-based project, dubbed eSpirit of St. Louis as a nod to Charles Lindbergh’s “notion of balance between aviation and the environment,” is a testbed for students and faculty to develop a unique electric propulsion system. 

According to ERAU, Dr. Richard “Pat” Anderson, director of the Eagle Flight Research Center, piloted the HK with student Joseph Thiemer and actively “programmed and monitored parameters in the motor inverter/speed controller and monitored the battery management system.” 

“Successful tests such as our most recent taxi are large steppingstones toward goals that are shaping the future of air transportation with hybrid and electric platforms,” said Joseph Thiemer, an Aerospace Engineering student completing his bachelor’s degree. 

“I am ecstatic that we achieved this taxi milestone and look forward to our next milestone—flight—an arduous task, but not an impossible one,” said aerospace engineering master’s student Sanay Satam. “We know the challenges that stand before us and are motivated to overcome them. It is all about the high fives at the end of the day, knowing that we were able to achieve our goals, thus fueling, or should I say, electrifying our ambition to succeed in the flight phase.”

The eSpirit program is long running, with its first power-up in 2017. The pace is not unexpected, since, according to ERAU, “Retrofitting the aircraft is almost entirely a student-based project designed to give them hands-on and research experience in electric aviation and hybrid propulsion. Faculty provide oversight as three aerospace engineering students … work on overall implementation, project planning and management, test procedures and execution.”

Marc Cook
KITPLANES Editor in Chief Marc Cook has been in aviation journalism for more than 30 years. He is a 4000-hour instrument-rated, multi-engine pilot with experience in nearly 150 types. He’s completed two kit aircraft, an Aero Designs Pulsar XP and a Glasair Sportsman 2+2, and currently flies a 2002 GlaStar.

Other AVwebflash Articles


  1. “…large steppingstones toward goals that are shaping the future of air transportation with hybrid and electric platforms”

    A taxi test? You’ve got to be kidding me. 

    • The students have built a thrust-driven electric car with wings. Are there plans to fly it? I don’t know. But no doubt a lot of students are learning a lot about the problems inherent in electric aviation.

    • Somebody is getting paid a lot of money to do this kind of stuff and more is coming, a lot more.

  2. 4 years and it taxies?

    WTH are they so proud about? This is already a failure.

    The future of carbon free aviation is synthetic fuel, such as developed by Porsche. We will run out pistons and turbines into the future and the snowflakes won’t have to melt.

    There is no need for carbon free aviation in the first place, but at least synthetic fuel will work.

  3. It is easy to use energy but not easy to store it, use it wisely or handle it. Batteries are not fuel and fuel is not a battery. The old locomotives have proven that electricity makes a great transmission of power. In fact a mechanical transmission has never been made for trains.

    So use fuel wisely and transfer the power to the prop and your problems are solved. It is nice to have a plane donated for research but build your electric system first for the mission to need and then build your aircraft around that purpose if you want success.

  4. It’s good they get to get their hands dirty and actually build something and work on a project. It’s also likely good they are getting exposed early with the snails pace of modern aviation progress. These kids are going to work in environments where expecting to get things done without taking every precaution and avoiding any personal upsets is demanded. Most who cannot deal with that will just get spit out like a virus.

  5. I am appalled by some of the negative reactions my fellow aviators put on display here. Shame on you. This is a student-based project that teaches future engineers how to deal with airplane and technology development. Come on… this is not an Airbus or Boeing project.

    • What is appalling and shameful is for ERAU to take 200 grand from children without telling them that battery powered flight is a bad career choice.

      • You are narrow-minded and according to most of your posts should stick to the more familiar analog six pack. Good luck going to Mars with that.

        • Like flying cars, people have been trying electric powered flight for a very long time. Such things have consistently failed in the market. Since real jobs need a real market, good luck starting out your career $200K+ in the hole.

          • “Like flying cars, people have been trying electric powered flight for a very long time”

            Back in 1993, Apple released a product called the Newton, a small portable computer. It was supposed to manage your schedule, take notes, store contacts, and stuff like that. It worked, but not super well, it was cumbersome and expensive, and it got mocked for the poor functionality of its handwriting recognition feature. Apple stopped producing it in 1997.

            And because the Newton was not a rousing success, Apple and everyone else gave up on portable computers and tablets. That’s why we all take our notes on paper today, and we flight plan on paper charts. That’s how it works out, right? We try something a few times, it doesn’t work, so we abandon it forever. That’s the way of technology.

    • Joe, you shouldn’t be surprised. The overwhelming majority of comments on this site are negative comments from anti-progress arm-chair quarterbacks who think they know more than the engineers and experts who are actually working on projects. They also fail to recognize signs of technological disruption. These are the same type of folks who said that the horse-less carriage would never work and that the internet was a fad.

      The technology will progress, battery capacity will improve with breakthroughs in Li-Sulfer and Li-CO2 (and perhaps other chemistries we have yet to hear from) and electric aviation will happen in some form within the next 10 to 20 years because the industry really wants it to work. Most of these folks are against electric cars, yet GM announced that by 2035 all of their models will be electric, so these folks will become irrelevant as they maintain their denial of climate science and their short-sighted love of internal combustion engines that are not only bad for the environment, but are also expensive and inefficient to operate.

      So Joe, don’t let these dinosaurs get you down. They can bloviate all they want while others are paving the way to the future. They will eventually be forgotten as technology brings us new things to get excited about.

      • I’ve actually built Internet infrastructure since 1991 till now, l have designed and built my own solar on and off grid arrays. I also have an undergraduate degree in chemistry and I have been reading climate literature (real, not the press releases) since the 70’s.

        Basically it’s the “dreamers” who are the ones that only gargle at the font of knowledge.

  6. Fuel cells may work for aviation in the future.

    Batteries will not. The physics and the chemistry is not there. The periodic table only goes so far and math is math.

    But the point is moot.

    Gasoline and diesel and Jet A are cheap and plentiful with massive supplies still available and the technology to use it is developed and proven. No need to degrade that success for unproven or unusable alternatives.

  7. Joe: Here is a tip – anytime an article on AvWeb pops up related to electric flight, you can bet all the usual suspects will jump on here to say how it’s a dumb idea, will never work, etc. Just don’t even bother to scroll down on those stories. Wish I knew what it was about electric motors that threatens their manhood.

    • Anyone who characterizes a taxi test of an Archer-class airplane as being “a large steppingstone toward goals that are shaping the future of air transportation,” lacks any reasonable sense of perspective. The assertion is absurd.

    • Pilots deal in physics and capacities and limitations and trade offs.

      That is a tough crowd for the purveyors of hyperbole.

    • Craig, you and Daniel are right about the overall negativity and skepticism in the comment section of these articles and indeed it’s healthier for the mind to not even scroll down anymore. Avweb is doing a great job on reporting Aviation News and should consider removing the comment section since it absolutely serves no purpose to have the 4 trolls spew their negativity on pretty much every advancement that is reported on.

  8. Alex R,
    I still own a Newton. It actually was a good success in schools, libraries, museums, and inventory systems. No one gave up, in fact big companies like HP started the IPAQ and Microsoft had WindowsCE.

    Point is that electric flight has been tried for a very long time. It’s not a new technology. The same “if we just had better batteries” will probably still be said by our grandchildren.

    • Fantastic… very impressive, congrats! Looks like your first one was a true ultralight and now another step. Sure progress.