Florida Tech Purchases Electric Trainer


Florida Tech has announced that it has become the first U.S. university to own and fly an electric aircraft with the acquisition of a Pipistrel Velis Electro. While the model is not yet FAA-certified, the university intends to use the aircraft to “give students the opportunity for experiential research with cutting edge technology.” According to Florida Tech, it is also in the process of setting up a contract to provide the FAA with data from the Velis Electro’s first 50 flight hours.

“We expect to see some drawbacks and limitations, but more importantly we expect to also see potential opportunities,” said Brian Kish, Florida Tech flight test engineering program chair. “As the first U.S. customer, Florida Tech will report our research findings to Pipistrel and the FAA. This initial feedback is crucial in the engineering process to evolve the design as well as assist federal regulators on developing certification and training guidelines.”

As previously reported by AVweb, the Velis Electro became the first fully electric aircraft to receive a type certificate from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in June 2020. Primarily designed as a trainer and powered by Pipistrel’s liquid-cooled E-811 electric motor, the two-seat aircraft has a cruise speed of 90 knots, 600-kg (1320-lb.) maximum takeoff weight, 172-kg (378-lb.) payload and endurance of up to 50 minutes plus VFR reserve. The Velis Electro is priced at around $190,000.

Kate O'Connor
Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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  1. What mission can you achieve in 50 minutes? Seriously.
    And cabin heat for its bantam-weight occupants? Didn’t think so.

    • It seems to me 50 minutes is perfectly adequate for training sessions. You do need to be a little slender to fit in the payload, but what the heck, it’s for 20-something students (and instructors), right?
      As for battery endurance, it’s unlikely to get worse in the future, so the only way forward is up.
      I’m not being an optimist, just a realist!

    • If a deficiency of cabin heat is your headline complaint, I will remind you that the school is in Florida. Cabin ventilation is the bigger concern.

      • My observations are not about the aircraft’s purchaser. Thy are about the aircraft, which presumably is intended for service outside of the Sunshine State, as well.

  2. OK you predictable nay sayers, what don’t you understand about the terms “opportunity, experimental, research, cutting edge, drawback and limitations, flight test engineering, feedback and evolve”?

    This isn’t the newest certificated airliner. Yet.

    Perhaps not be so spring loaded to the negative?

    • Truth is truth, Joe. It’s neither negative nor positive.
      Many in this space (the predictable nay sayers?) have decades of engineering experience. We’re neither optimists nor pessimists.
      We’re “realists.”

    • And as the old saying goes–an optimist can view a pile of horse manure, and think “There MUST be a pony in here!”

      As Yars mentions, the realists call it what it is.

      • Squared, Jim.

        When I can hop into one of these things and do the same thing as my Cessna … THEN electric aviation has arrived. Just because some University has become the incubator of this electric airplane idea has no meaning to me or any pilots I know. And $190K … I’ll be sure and buy two … one for each foot.

  3. It would be nice, if they would make them more practical not “cute”. Having flown a lot of larger radio controlled aircraft over the decades, The day I switched to electric was the best….clean fuselages, instant power, great convenience, BUT only with the fact I had 6 batteries with me and changing them out was simple and quick. Now if they only did that for this aircraft. To have 3-4 batteries in the hangar and a quick change way to slide one out and another in. That could make all the difference in the world. You could fly continuously. Engineers get to work.

  4. If ANY company can make this work, it’s Pipistrel. They have a lot of experience with electric self-launch gliders, and they are a fast-moving and innovative company (probably because they aren’t hampered with the FAA certification).

    Which brings up another point–since the aircraft is not certified, I would guess that both student and instructors will have to have an FAA “Letter Of Deviation Authority” (LODA) to operate the aircraft–at least for the FAA-estimated 4 years to correct their screw-up). (Laugh)

    Short range and duration? Don’t forget the “UP TO 50 minutes duration.” Like so many advertised products, the “UP TO” means “Your experience may (and likely will) be less…….”

    Note that once again, this is a UNIVERSITY (public money) that is plunking down the $200 G purchase price. The aircraft has been out a while, and there has been a dearth of retail buyers. What have those potential buyers that have considered and rejected the aircraft learned that the University (the people that are supposed to TEACH) have not?

  5. My only issues with battery power, can you change the battery? And how long to charge?
    A plane must fly most of the available 8 hour working day to be profitable. 50 min a day will not work.

  6. I, for one, am glad to see they have purchased the plane. The only way to find out how well electric aircraft will work is to put them in the field and fly them a lot. And, since the school is a publicly owned enterprise, their experiences will be open to public review. If a private school or individual buys the plane, we may or may not get the full feedback about the plane’s good points and warts. Let’s give it a year and see how things go. Kate? Mark your calendar for a follow-up review.

  7. One word of advice for anyone planning to fly the plane: In south Florida, if you are going to fly with the doors open, make sure you have all your stuff tied down or risk it blowing out.

  8. With several thousand hours of flight instruction given, I would not want to craft a curriculum of 50-minute flight lessons.

  9. Put this in context: How many of us would INITIATE a flight with only 50 minutes of fuel (plus a VERY small reserve).

    That would mean making a takeoff with about 6 gallons TOTAL fuel in a Cessna 150, or 10 gallons total in a Skyhawk or Warrior. Yes, you could DO it, but how comfortable would you feel making a 50 minute flight?

    To use a Clint Eastwood line, “Do you feel lucky? Well, DO YOU _ _ _ _?”

    • Thinking about it this AM, I thought the same thing, Jim. You beat me to it. And imagine if we admitted doing that w/ a 150 or 172 … they’d be “on” us in a flash for doing it.

  10. Hanson and several other likely conservative ‘NO MASKS AND NO MORE TAXES” naysayers have declared this pioneering effort pointless, suspicious and/or deplorable because
    “Note that once again, this is a UNIVERSITY (public money) that is plunking down the $200 G purchase price.”
    Quite the opposite, Jimmie. Florida Tech [aka Florida Institute of Technology] is a PRIVATE, coeducational, residential, research-intensive, doctoral granting university initially founded in the 50’s specifically to provide technicians to nearby nascent NASA and today ranked a “best buy” with its graduates first in Florida for alumni earnings. Far less $$tuition$$ than ERAU up the coast. Happier now? Then consider https://www.fit.edu/support-us-overview/
    I have no affiliation with FIT. Just a growing disgust with the inefficiency, inflated Presidential/coaching salaries, and corrupt political intrigue infecting some PUBLIC universities. Predictably, SUNY is the historically leading offender. They secretly arranged to shut down and sell off their growing aviation program after 9/11, then they via then-AG Andrew Cuomo retaliated against the Flightline Director who exposed them and rallied students, parents, private pilots, industry, and legislators to save it. Unlike the federal government, NY State offers no government whistleblower protections.
    Next, John Mc COMPLETELY ignores the repeated mention of research-quality comprehensive reporting to FAA and Pipistrel by nonsensically and conspiratorially declaring “If a private school or individual buys the plane, we may or may not get the full feedback about the plane’s good points and warts.”
    And finally, John, as someone who has flown camera planes doorless for movie companies in all weather conditions, I’d appreciate an explanation of your claim things blow out of airplanes faster and/or more often in S.Florida. Maybe FIT should look into that design/climate interface phenomenon…or did i miss a gag there?

  11. Hanson and several other likely conservative ‘NO MASKS AND NO MORE TAXES” naysayers have declared this pioneering effort pointless, suspicious and/or deplorable because
    “Note that once again, this is a UNIVERSITY (public money) that is plunking down the $200 G purchase price.”

    Nah–the foibles of university “thinking” is just the side show. My comments–like most of those that don’t agree with you, are mainly centered on the impracticality of the plane–such short range as to be impractical for flight training, ESPECIALLY in a high-utilization environment. Commercial operators haven’t bought into the concept yet, because they have to make money–and can’t do it on such short segments–UNLESS, as some have pointed out, it has quick-change batteries (it doesn’t). A university, however, whether public or private, doesn’t have to live with reality–whether funded by government funds, “research grants”, private donations, or the tuition forced on the students. Does ANYBODY have an example of a successful electric trainer?

    Is a university more credible than a private concern when it comes to suitability for flight training? I don’t think there is a lot of difference, EXCEPT that if it does turn out to be a dud–whoever bought it will be “covering scat like a cat”–while the private owner simply has to admit “I made a mistake.”

    I’ve been complimentary about Pipistrel–as mentioned they are a leader in electric propulsion–and as Paul has mentioned before, they are a fast-moving and adaptive company.

    It’s easy to espouse a CONCEPT, when it isn’t your own money involved. IF you believe there is a future in these airplanes, I’m sure that Pipistrel would be glad for you to buy a fleet for evaluation by leasing to universities and flight schools. Let’s see if any of these “true believers” steps up to the post.

    Finally, I’m glad to see that the place where it will be “evaluated” is in the far south–where they don’t need heat in the airplane–which shortens range even MORE. That hasn’t worked out well for electric cars (with HUGE batteries) in the northern part of the U.S. Perhaps Pipistrel should be looking at locations even FURTHER south.

    • Since Jim brought up the subject, a few words about “quick change batteries.”
      First two words: Form Factor.
      Third word: Weight.

      Anything more than 30 pounds per module is a non-starter. Doubt me? Try hefting around a 5-gallon jug of gasoline.
      More realistically, make it 15 pounds, so that 90-pound female flight instructors have a fighting chance at not herniating themselves when “re-fueling” the bird.

      If the energy requirement calls for 600 pounds of state-of-the-art battery power, then we’re looking at 40 quick-change battery modules, at a minimum – more like 50 when you consider the weight premium of all of those blind-docking power connectors and the weight of the multiple plastic battery cases.

      How long wili it take to swap out those 50 battery modules? If you could get it done at a rate of one per minute (doubtful), it would take almost an hour to “re-fuel” the “quick-change” bird.

      Realism’s a bitch.

  12. I summer near Oshkosh where there’s a Tesla supercharging station. For a long time, I’d never seen any cars in there but last year did. So I walked over to talk with some of them. One guy was moaning because he had to “tell” his car where he was going and then had to go out of his way to get a sip of electrons to get to his far away destination. Another was an Oshkosh local so I asked what he does in winter when temps are really cold. He looks me in the eye and says, “I can work from home.” Swell !! I forgot to ask how he keeps warm when he does drive it in winter … as you aptly point out. Another point is torque. Electric vehicles have lots of that so they better have a system to detect wheel slip and control it. For airplanes, I’d think a system to automatically control prop pitch would improve endurance?

    Now multiply that for airplanes where you can’t just pull over for a charge. Multiply that again when a student pilot is involved. Another point no one has brought out is, how accurate are the state of charge indicating systems? I’d sure hope they’re more accurate than the fuel quantity systems in piston airplanes. Lots of folks don’t know that the ONLY place the fuel gauge MUST be accurate is when it’s on “E” for those. It’s taking SO long to certify electric airplanes for a reason.

    The first time an electric airplane goes down because it ran out of electrons … things will change FAST.

    Realism in the real world … it’s a wonderful thing!