Top Letters And Comments, July 2, 2021


Electric Aircraft And The Media

Good article with salient and analogous points. You do that SO well.

I think that most of your informed readers who take the time to expound on all these fictitious articles, claims or press releases — calling them “vaporware” — are smart enough to know that SOMETHING might come of SOME of the work being done on this emerging technology. Electric power COULD be the future … if energy storage issues were ever solved. Problem is, at this time, it ain’t real and not on the timeline most of us “doddering” on have remaining … as you said. We’re impatient! So why are you printing — and in the process giving street cred to — what appears to be just about every cockamamie aviation claim anyone makes. Most aren’t real and press releases won’t make them real. I was hoping the UFO Report released yesterday would tell us that Element 115 IS what powers them but was — once again — left disappointed. See the problem?

The heartburn is that there seems to be SO much of it anymore. It’s kinda like being fed a constant diet of “steam” — GREAT analogy, BTW. If I want a beer, I don’t go to a brewery to smell it or look at it being made, I want to taste and savor the experience arriving at Nirvana after six. That’s why Airventure is such a monumental event to us. We moan because we’re experienced enough to know that the great preponderance of these claims won’t rise even to the level of an Eclipse or an Icon … despite the claims of “disruptive technology,” et al. And we know that there is no market at the dollar figures they need to be successful. Worse, the claims that going electric will save the planet … especially if all they do is call it ‘green.’ Give us all a break!

I — personally — view Avweb as THE Gold Standard of aviation reporting. As such, Avweb has a responsibility to deliver FACTUAL and substantive reporting to it’s readers. And it has a responsibility to itself — as a top level media outlet — to act with the highest of standards. Avweb is often the source link location used by other outlets for that same reason. MY early AM online perusals include a low pass by the Avweb home page to see what’s happening in my chosen avocation of aviation. I don’t come here to read Bravo Sierra press releases or be tricked by “click bait” … I come here for the facts … just like Jack Webb did, “Ma’am.” Print the facts prominently and put the press releases in a separate area.

MY recommendation … invent some ‘sidebar’ area to ID these as “Press Releases” or “From the Fiction Desk” or something like that. That way, readers can dumpster dive if they like or avoid these nutty claims altogether. Facts is facts and fiction is fiction and almost never will they meet. Separate them. YOU — above all others — are the master of seeing that.

Now then, I’ll go back to sitting here waiting for Superior to announce that their Odyssey 2-stroke 2 cycle engine has finally been developed, tested, approved and is available to me to purchase. See the problem?

Bottom line … REALITY rules the world! You know what talks … and what walks. Fill in the blanks.

Larry S.

Excellent video that covers the challenges of accurately covering the electrification of aviation.

Jim Bede produced flying airplanes. He shared details of his revolutionary designs and evolution of the aircraft as he progressed with anybody who would listen. By the time he was selling BD-5 kits, a flying airplane not only existed but was available to the press for evaluation. A lot has been said about his business acumen. But one cannot dismiss the loss of promised production engine that caused all sorts of problems contributing in part to the eventual financial fiasco. But there are BD-5’s still being built today proving a well designed airplane with a mature powerplant still has a market.

Most of the naysayers are not naysayers because they intrinsically hate electrical propulsion. It’s decades of more not less outrageous claims showing a trend toward less marketing savvy rather than a mature understanding of aviation, FAA certification processes, and the mindset of the average aviation consumer.

Aviation is littered with past, and now present outlandish promises. However, few of these electric visions seem to have any knowledge of past aviation history. Use of Other People’s Money (OPM) is the modus operandi rather than producing a usable, certifiable, transportation solution. There is no end product. Instead, its a short term window of OPM use resulting in another black eye to any hope of a usable flying aerial conveyance. I understand proprietary info and taking care in guarding that. But that seems to be a cover for using OPM without restriction or accountability. And because most people, especially investment people have no idea what participating in aviation really entails, any oversized dronelike multirotor flying unicorn attracts enough OPM to foster more ridiculous performance and certification claims.

Since just about everything seems to involve politics demanding political correctness to get any media attention, those investors like Boeing, Airbus, and Lockheed-Martin know that a few million in investments of some of these VTOLs is cheap advertising to continue to massage the masses of their collective “concern” for the environment while they continue to build and sell their kerosene burners. Green is proper PC.

It used to be sell the sizzle not the steak. But at least there was a steak to eventually sell via the sizzle. Today we have CGI sizzle with virtual eye-candy that leads to an empty frying pan. No steak but access and use of OPM with the promise of future smells. Yeah, the check is in the mail, and I love you. Good luck in covering that without misgivings, confusion, and negative comments from an equally or more frustrated aviation consumer who is looking for a legitimate outcome. Not an easy trail to walk on.

I think AvWeb has done a great job in walking that tight-rope. Paul, you have fearlessly, with a lot of thought, done a great job thus far. Follow your instincts. They have served you well so far. Your candor on addressing this growing problem is refreshing resulting in my support and viewership of AvWeb. Please don’t stop. We need some sort of aviation media platform that can take the sometimes withering comments, yet continue to slog through the reporting of the electrification of passenger carrying unicorns. You continue to report. We will make our own assessments.

Jim Holdeman

Poll: Would You Fly in An Electric Air Taxi?

  • Sure thing. Just as soon as it’s approved for part 135 operations. Which should be, oh I don’t know, the 12th of never? The investors in these things should talk to the original Eclipse investors to see how that goes. – Jay Hulbert
  • Electric flight is possible. There is no doubt about the concept. It does work. The 2 major down sides are this. The obvious one is the lack of battery life. But the other is usually ignored. When a toy VTOL runs out of battery or crashes, no one is hurt. Passengers are not toys. Safety seems to be the last worry. Even for helicopters, counter rotation is not always a lifesaver. These 2 problems should have been addressed at the beginning before investors arrived with suitcases full of money. The energy for fuel to battery is still around 30 to 1. So hybrid power appears to the only remedy at this time. Not much has changed on the battery front – as I expected and foresee any change in the future. The safety issue will be a hard sell for FAA. – Don Lineback
  • Absolutely, assuming the aircraft and carrier are both certified for 135 operations. – Michael Prevost
  • It all depends on how it is designed. By current definition an air taxi could be something like a Cessna 206 or a small turboprop like a PC-12, King Air, Cessna 208, or one of many other extant or soon-to-be extant conventional designs of fixed wing aircraft. It could also mean a helicopter. And though there are some special considerations to be made with electric powerplants, especially for helicopters, I would fly in one, especially if it is manned. On the subject of autonomy, I do not think some automated systems are quite up to scratch yet (like the Boeing 737 MAX family, and Sikorsky CH-148 system failures as of late), but the future seems quite good (examples being the Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie and the Boeing Airpower Teaming System). However, when it comes to some of the newer VTOL concepts and prototypes that are being developed, I am a little wary concerning some of the designs especially the topic of motor failure. Again, turning back to radio control, outrunner motors produce a lot of torque, hence why they are popular in the hobby, but, when it comes to multi-engine fixed wing aircraft, the factor of controllability is significantly more of a concern, and speeds for some scale models are disproportionately higher than their full-scale counterparts (however, this can still be managed. I feel that there might need to be pilot recertification for multi-engine aircrews for these motor out procedures). This is only more concerning with multirotors and VTOL systems, as in the case of multirotors, one motor failure will very likely cut the flight short, and of the few recreational VTOLs that are commonplace (models being the Convergence series and V-22 Osprey from Horizon, and similar models to the Convergence available trough XK and JJRC) a commonly cited issue on fora and product reviews is motor failure bringing the aircraft down in a heaping pile of foam and electronics, and while there are higher standards in the realm of manned aviation, these problems likely still exist and there are likely some more challenges which my relatively narrow viewpoint does not see. Thus, as a result, I would not fly on any craft (air taxi, electric; either, or neither) that utilizes complex VTOL technologies like some of the proposals.
  • Yes, depending on the circumstances. Human pilot? Auto-pilot? How far? But overall yes!
  • After 5 years of reasonably safe operation.
  • I’ve never flown in any other air taxi, why would electric be different?
  • Society and commerce will change in such a way that air taxis are not needed. As management level people work more remotely and labor/service is steadily replaced by robotics the surface infrastructure will be freed up for efficient movement of autonomous cars.
  • Not yet… Certification process is still pretty distant.
  • Yes, but you go first!
  • Not enough flight testing. Currently too soon to make an informed opinion.
  • I wouldn’t mind taking a trip just to satisfy my curiosity about them, but I really don’t travel anywhere that an air taxi would be of any help to me. For travel to another city I already have my own “air taxi”. 🙂
  • After the system has been in use for a few years, I would use one for specific purposes, such as getting to the far side of an urban area, or to save time in other ways where traffic could be avoided to advantage.
  • Maybe someday. I’ve no interest in being a beta tester, and doubt they will make economic sense.
  • I’ll think about this more seriously if such taxi service comes to reality in my lifetime.
  • Only if it is hybrid with a pilot.
  • After they’d safely done thousands of prior flights with paying passengers.
  • When they are proven to be safe.
  • Never buy a ticket to ride on a drone (no matter what powers it). I’ve seen (and flown through) too many weird situations which could not have been foreseen by the engineers.
  • The logistics to get a fleet up and flying and recharged is too many years away for me to feel confident that I would get to where I’d want to travel.
  • Not yet, we’re not there yet.
  • If I was trained to and could take over manually.
  • After attaining much proof of reliability.
  • Haven’t given it enough thought – still some time to go, I think.
  • Not at the moment. But of all goes well, then in a few years, yes.
  • Yes, after 10-15 years of getting the bugs out (and proving their software can’t be hacked).
  • When it’s reliable and as safe as current tech.
  • I would have certainly have to be confident that the inherent vulnerabilities of an electric aircraft have been successfully addressed.
  • Need more information about equipment, regulation, routes, facilities, automation, and certification.
  • You merit one chopper ride only—air ambulance.
  • If I can’t get there in my Acro Sport, I’ll drive.
  • Maybe, after they are proven safe and reliable.
  • Not yet, but in the future – who knows?
  • Wait for tech to catch up.
  • I don’t see this as reality as of right now. If at all, the airframe would be extremely limited and travel length very limited. Seems moot at this stage. Perhaps as time goes on and R&D is better, we’ll see.
  • Some day if the technology pans out.
  • Not yet, not ready for prime time.
  • After a couple of years.
  • Yes, regardless of pilot.
  • Not now but never say never. Who knows what things will be like in two or three decades
  • What’s the charge?

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  1. Years ago I had a personal certified helicopter, an Enstrom. I thought it would be fun to be able to land on some parking lot roofs at fancy hotels and restaurants in Cambridge and around Boston.

    Reply was either “no way” or “we need $25m of liability insurance before you do.”

    That’s when $25m was a lot of money.

    Needless to say there were just a few resorts and hotels that would invite a private helicopter to land on the lawn.

    It’s been awhile since I had high school AP physics. I do recall the basics: Would someone (who is bored) please calculate and review the energy to raise 1 lb 1,000 feet, then hold it there for an hour, then lower back down? Assume 100% efficiency for starters.

    Then add energy density of batteries into that. Then add energy conversion and aerodynamic propeller losses, etc.

    Think how nervous passengers are in small certified aircraft with certified pilots. My guess is a few of something will be made, at huge cost to shareholders, with poor economics, and end up as expensive amusement park rides.

    The publicly traded holding mergers being used these days remind me of what we’re railroad scams in the early century. Anyone could issue a press release they were building a railroad from San Fransisco to Hawaii and start issuing stock certificates. A few layers of speculators would flip the stock until…

    Lastly, these mergers remind me of another dubious way marginal companies would go public: Find some thinly traded publicly traded shell, which had gone through security registration in some obscure state years ago when it was a real company. Then merge that shell with the company trying to raise funds for insiders to get liquid.

    Insiders would buy the shell stock low and… whoosh, …out the door once trading volume and price was up.

    And then, soon enough, it would become another shell for the next one in line….

    What, me cynical?

  2. I find it interesting that a lot of the commenters said that, if they would fly on one, it would only be with a human pilot. But, the air taxi service would be aimed at the general public, not pilots. And the development of autopilot capability in electric cars is already being widely accepted by the public. By the time an electric air taxi is in operation, I suspect an autonomous craft might be more acceptable to non-pilot passengers than one with a human pilot.