A Zenith CH 750 Cruzer kit aircraft powered by an electric motor has completed its first flight at England’s Old Buckenham Aerodrome (EGSV). The CH 750 was built and flown by U.K.-based nonprofit organization NUNCATS, which partnered with kit manufacturer Zenith Aircraft Company and several investors for the project. According to Zenith, the flight is the first in a test program that will “establish range, endurance, payload and performance figures in different battery/weight configurations.”
“While we all know that today’s battery technology will not permit the range and endurance available with ICE [internal combustion engines], there are some clear advantages of electric power in addition to the more obvious sustainability claims,” said Zenith President Sebastien Heintz. “The simplicity of electric motors has the potential to make light aircraft propulsion systems more reliable and easier to install and maintain … and near-instantly available torque of electric power can further improve upon the STOL (short take-off and landing) performance of Zenith kit aircraft designs.”
Founded in 2019, NUNCATS has been building its electric CH 750 for three years. The organization says it plans to use the aircraft to transport doctors, teachers and medical supplies to remote communities in Africa. NUNCATS is also partnering with charter company SaxonAir, the International Aviation Academy Norwich (IAAN), Action Community Enterprises (ACE), East Coast College and Vattenfall on a second electric CH 750 that is being built by IAAN students.
Could be a strong contender in the STOL drag competition world! Instant power major plus, short autonomy immaterial.
Very interesting, certainly. Hopefully we can have a breakthrough in battery technology so endurance will be less of an issue. I’m used to giving 1 hour flight lessons and old habits pass away uneasily. One questions that also occurs is ramp safety… electric cars are silent or nearly so. Can you hear the prop to the extent that someone who is nearby will be likely to avoid the arc? We have too many prop/human interactions already and I’m wondering about how a more quiet engine will affect ramp safety.
It would be nice to fly in a more quiet training aircraft, though. My Bose A20s are great, but I could get used to the sound of (almost) silence… apologies to Simon and Garfunkel.
While the electric motor is quiet, the prop is not. Go check out an RC park some time. Even the electric planes still mostly sound like planes.
Also, a noisy flight line is already loud enough that your ears aren’t your best protection against injury. You need to keep up your visual situational awareness too.
I smell an interesting opportunity to make a “Ground Sound” noisemaker. With the possibility of so many sounds to choose from, should it be a standard sound? Adjustable volume? Should the FAA mandate it? Could it be fun?
The best lithium-ion batteries have about 270 Whr/kg. Solid state lithium metal batteries should have up to about 500 Whr/kg but the real breakthrough will be lithium-sulfur. Lyten projects 900 Whr/kg and expects to have cells available by 2025. As sulfur is an abundant low cost element, they also project lower cost along with faster charging. According to one study, you need about 500 Whr/kg for a typical regional jet flight and about 800 Whr/kg for a typical narrow body (Boeing 737 or Airbus 320) flight. I will post a link in another post so the powers that be can make sure it is not something nefarious.
How many times have we seen the phrase “will be available by 202–“, always a couple of years out and they never materialize except in bankruptcy court.
Lyten is making lithium-sulfur cells now and has been making them for DOD. I am not sure what DOD is using them for but I might guess that is for one-way flights that end with a big bang. Anyway, I know that a number of these startups go bankrupt but if we never tried anything new, we would be still running around trying to club animals. Also, manned aviation was considered an impossibility just 120 years ago.
Sheehy’s rule of thumb is that the range of a conventional aircraft in nautical miles is equal to the energy density of the battery in Wh/kg. That’s based on a whole lot of engineering assumptions that are “challenging, but possible” – and it assumes operating at best L/D, which is far slower than most planes cruise today. So, a narrowbody would need more like 3,000 Wh/kg. But, you could operate short regional routes with 500 Wh/kg, if you were willing to slow down.
At last, an organization with vision tempered by reality. One of the few, if not the first, that admit the problematic battery issues with e-flight yet pursue in hopes of advancements in battery technology. And very good points on mechanicals – the e-power plants are much more simple, meaning that once battery issues are overcome, you have a better chance that your peaceful Sunday afternoon flight will stay that way.
Link for power requirements: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acsenergylett.9b02574
Link for Lyten: https://lyten.com/
That article concludes “Fully electric aircraft powered by batteries face a number of challenges moving forward. The specific energy of even the most optimistic future batteries enables only small regional aircraft, while larger narrow-body or wide-body aircraft remain outside of the feasibility limits of known electrochemical rechargeable battery systems. Additionally, the achievable small electric aircraft would be heavier than conventional aircraft for comparable performance metrics.” Not too encouraging.
The weight issue is not trivial. The extra weight of the batteries means reduced payload. That is a significant economic disincentive if you are trying to run an airline as a business. Also, the fact that an electric airplane weighs the same when it lands as when it took off is a consideration. A liquid-fueled airplane burns less fuel (per hour) as it becomes lighter during a flight. Especially for large aircraft, it is common to have max landing weights that are less than the max takeoff weight. Assuming similar landing gear, brakes, etc., that would further limit the amount of batteries that could be carried.
While we wait for improved batteries, Nuncats is developing a complete system of electric aircraft PLUS solar charging stations. Even before their first flight, they have created a solar collecting storage and aircraft shelter. The idea is to have a network of such storage/charging stations which reach deep into areas not served by infrastructure. I think this is what is referred to as a gap technology – it serves an immediate need and is a test bed for further developments. A worthy endeavor.
Well, deliveries to remote villages in Africa? Let’s see, mud huts with dirt floors, maybe one community water source of dubious quality, but they will have Tesla style recharging stations for electric aircraft?
It is probably easier to provide solar cells with battery storage than it is to truck in JetA or, even worse, high octane gasoline although I expect that they plan on making a round trip without refueling.
A couple of comments:
A battery powered aircraft will need to be need to be designed for the properties of the batteries including that the weight of the batteries will be more than JetA and the aircraft will weight the same for landing as for takeoff. I would expect that it might look something like the experimental braced high wing high aspect ration plane that Boeing is going to build.
The real reason why I expect that battery aircraft will be used for some shorter range applications is that the projected cost per seat mile for battery aircraft is about 1/4 the cost of using jet fuel. Being “Green” is nice but the real driver will be economics.
The article that I provided the link for suggests using lithium air but I do not think that this will work as lithium has an atomic weight of 3 while oxygen has an atomic weight of 16 so Li2O has a molecular weight of 22. So with lithium air, you end up gaining weight as you continue to fly along. If you start with 1000 kg of lithium, you end up with 3666 kg of lithium oxide. Jet fuel requires more more weight of air but has the advantage that the by products are ejected so you get lighter as you continue to fly along.
Very good and informative article; appears to be unbiased. Thanks Samuel!
“Founded in 2019, NUNCATS has been building its electric CH 750 for three years. The organization says it plans to use the aircraft to transport doctors, teachers and medical supplies to remote communities in Africa.”
As a physician, I’ll take the turbine Cessna Caravan thanks anyway.
Depends on the mission but the CH-750 is probably more fun but then I might be biased as I am building a CH-750 although with a turbo-charged Rotax.
A Caravan requires roughly ten times the runway that a CH-750 does.
Why would you even compare the two? A physician might prefer the comfort of the turbine, whereas a pilot might opt for a plane which could actually complete the mission.
I was joking.
I’d love a ride in the CH-750.
It’s the battery powered concept I object to.
I fly a Maule so I recognize a philosophical kinship to the CH.