Electric Trainers Arrive In California

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Four electric-powered Pipistrel Alpha Electro aircraft have arrived in southern California, ready to be put into service as trainers, but the regulatory structure for that to happen is not yet in place. “We are flying all four aircraft and are currently focused on working to understand how to successfully tailor a flight training program to the aircraft,” Joseph Oldham, technical advisor to the Sustainable Aviation Project, told AVweb this week. Oldham, director of the San Joaquin Valley Clean Transportation Center, has been working with Pipistrel and some local nonprofits to develop infrastructure for the electric airplanes. “We have deployed a charger at two airports, Fresno Chandler Executive and Reedley Municipal, to support the aircraft operations, and are working on the third location at Mendota Municipal,” Oldham said.

Oldham said he has flown all four of the airplanes, logging 14 flights and a little over 7 hours of flight time. “The aircraft are amazing to fly and have excellent performance,” he said. “There is no traditional runup as with a piston engine aircraft, so time wasted during taxi and at the runup area is significantly reduced. The motor draws no electrical current sitting waiting for traffic to land, and the prop does not move as you sit in silence waiting to take off; this is the most surprising aspect of the aircraft for most pilots first experiencing the aircraft.” So far, he said, all of his flights have been at a cruising speed of about 90 knots, with a conservative flight time of about 40 minutes, covering about 50 NM. AVweb's Paul Bertorelli flew the Alpha Electro; click here for his video report.

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Comments (3)

"There is no traditional runup as with a piston engine aircraft, so time wasted during taxi and at the runup area is significantly reduced."

Yeah, that 10 to 15 seconds that it takes to do a runup sure is "significant."

Here's the MINIMUM performance that it would take, for me to characterize an electric trainer as "useful" - just in the traffic pattern:
One full hour of up-and-down (typically 14 circuits) PLUS
Reserve power adequate to divert to an alternate landing site (30 minutes at normal cruise) PLUS
30 minutes daytime / 45 minutes nighttime reserve upon landing
Done in zero-degree weather (using that battery to keep the passengers comfortable, and the windows free of condensation.
A 15-minute recharge or battery-swap interval.

Of course, cross-country requirements necessarily would be even greater.

Call me when you build one; I'l be eager to fly it.

Posted by: YARS (Tom Yarsley) | April 16, 2018 9:22 AM    Report this comment

It sounds cool on takeoff, I'll give it that.

Otherwise useless electric novelty/toy.

Not unlike so many of the cars we see nowadays.

The cars at least can run out of juice and towed home safely by a diesel towtruck.

Posted by: William kalichman | April 16, 2018 3:42 PM    Report this comment

Electric motors are very well suited for aircraft use - high tourqe for takeoff; extremely efficient and quiet in cruise; low profile and minimal cooling drag; wide RPM operating range. It's those damn batteries that are the problem.

Electric airplanes will fill a niche in aviation, especially in Europe where trainers rarely venture far from their home airport. But their limitations and high cost will limit their acceptance in North America for a long time to come.

Posted by: John McNamee | April 17, 2018 10:47 AM    Report this comment

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