With new contracts, partnerships and flight tests spanning multiple countries and companies, efforts are advancing to develop electric conventional takeoff and landing (eCTOL) and electric short takeoff and landing (eSTOL) aircraft for advanced air mobility (AAM) applications.
Maiden Flight of Elektra Trainer
The Elektra Trainer, a two-seat electric ultralight aircraft from Elektra Solar, made its maiden flight on June 29 at Memmingen International Airport in southern Germany. The aircraft took off using less than 100 m (328 ft) of runway and flew for 20 minutes, using Geiger Engineering’s 50-kW HPD-50D dual motor. In a press release, the Bavaria-based electric aircraft developer said that it will begin certification flight tests and expects to secure German ultralight approval by the end of the year. Elektra Solar —a spinoff from the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Oberpfaffenhofen near Munich — unveiled the Elektra Trainer on April 1 and displayed the aircraft at AERO Friedrichshafen in April, alongside two other products, the solar-powered, single-seat Elektra One airplane and Elektra VTOL drone. Elektra Solar has pitched the Trainer as a cost-effective option for flight schools and clubs; it expects to open it to the European market in the “next few years.”
CAE and Piper Plan Archer Conversion
CAE and Piper Aircraft have partnered to develop an electrical conversion kit for the Piper Archer aircraft, the two companies announced on July 19. CAE and Piper will develop a supplemental type certificate (STC) for the electric powerplant, which will use a battery system provided by the Swiss firm H55 and a Safran ENGINeUS 100 electric motor. Following the roll-out of the conversion kit, CAE and Piper intend to convert two-thirds of CAE’s Archer flight training aircraft fleet to electric power over a three-year period and develop a training curriculum for new pilots on electric aircraft. The partnership is made possible in part by Project Resilience, a collaboration between CAE and the governments of Canada and Quebec on investments in aviation technologies.
This is the first time CAE has entered the aircraft propulsion business, but the Canadian aviation electronics, simulation and flight training company once owned subsidiaries that built commercial aircraft structures and provided aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services.
Eviation Selects Parker
Eviation Aircraft announced on July 20 that it has selected Parker Aerospace (part of Parker Hannifin Corp.) to provide technology system packages for the Alice, Eviation’s all-electric commuter aircraft. The technology packages cover six categories: cockpit controls, electromechanical flap system, thermal management system, hydraulic powerpacks, vibration and noise mitigation, and sealing solutions. The six systems will be produced by Parker Aerospace in collaboration with two other branches, Parker’s Engineered Materials Group and Parker LORD. Eviation is preparing for the maiden flight of the Alice. In early June, the prototype aircraft relocated from Arlington Municipal Airport (AWO) to Grant Country International Airport (MWH) in Moses Lake in eastern Washington State, where Eviation intends to make the maiden flight after completing ground tests.
Rex and Dovetail Partner on Conversion
Australia’s Rex Group and Dovetail Electric Aviation, a joint company between Dante Aeronautical and Sydney Seaplanes, announced on July 21 a partnership to convert turbine-powered aircraft to electric power. Dovetail will be responsible for converting the aircraft using electric motors, battery packs and hydrogen fuel cells, as well as for certifying the propulsion system. Rex Group will provide a Saab 340 turboprop (shown in the photo above by Lenn Bayliss), as well as support facilities, technical advice and engineering expertise, among other assistance. After securing the necessary certification approvals, Dovetail is expected to open conversion centers in Australia, Europe and Singapore.
“The addressable market is huge,” said David Doral, founder of Dante Aeronautical, in a statement. “We estimate that in the global small commuter fleet alone there are more than 11,000 nine to nineteen seat aircraft that are currently capable of being retro-fitted, which represents a US$15B market.”
Ampaire Reveals Order, Long-Distance Flight
Rex and Dovetail Partner on Conversion
Ampaire announced on July 20 that it has secured a firm order from WingTips for five EcoCaravan aircraft, with an option for an additional 20. WingTips, a California-based air mobility company offers passengers the opportunity to book seats on regional, on-demand charter flights and intends to offer scheduled service in the future. The EcoCaravan, which is based on a Cessna Grand Caravan, has a hybrid-electric propulsion system that uses 70% less fuel on short trips. Ampaire expects to secure supplemental type certificate approval for the EcoCaravan from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2024.
On July 25, Ampaire revealed it will use a German-made RED Aircraft AO3 series 12-cylinder compression ignition engine rated to 550 hp (405 kW) in its integrated parallel hybrid-propulsion unit being developed for the EcoCaravan. The RED engine provides the base power and the Ampaire electrical system provides the peak power.
Ampaire expects the hybrid powerplant will result in fuel savings of 70% on shorter trips and 50% on longer ones for the EcoCaravan, with greater corresponding reductions in CO2 emissions. EcoCaravan operating costs are expected to be 25– 40% lower than a P&WC PT6A-powered Caravan depending on an operator’s route structure.
On July 21, an Ampaire hybrid-electric EEL demonstrator completed a non-stop 1,135-mile (1,825-km) flight, the longest ever for a hybrid-electric aircraft, the Los Angeles-based company said in a press release. The demonstrator flew between Mojave, California, and Hays, Kansas, the longest part of a multi-day journey to EAA’s AirVenture that covered 1,880 miles (3,025 km) in all. The hybrid-electric EEL demonstrated fuel savings up to 40% compared to a standard Cessna 337 Skymaster, the basis for the aircraft. “By the time the EEL returns to California it will have flown more miles than any hybrid-electric aircraft,” said Dr. Susan Ying, Ampaire’s Senior Vice President of Global Partnerships. However, it should be noted that the EEL uses two independent propulsion systems: the 120-kW nose motor is battery-electric while the rear propeller is powered by a Continental IO-550 piston engine.
Raytheon Invests in VerdeGo Aero
RTX Ventures, the corporate venture capital group of Raytheon Technologies, announced on July 27 that it is the lead investor in VerdeGo Aero’s $12M Series A funding round. Series A funding is the first round of significant capital provided to a start-up company. VerdeGo Aero, in 2021, unveiled its 185 kW VH-3 generator, which is being used for eVTOL and other aircraft. VerdeGo Aero is developing its third generation of full-scale, hybrid-electric powerplant hardware, the VH- 3-185 powerplant. The investment will support the Daytona Beach, Florida-based company’s expansion and work on the VH-3-185, which VerdeGo unveiled in March 2021 (see “Hard- Core Hybrids,” Vertiflite, May/June 2021). The investment is also expected to lead to a collaboration between VerdeGo Aero and Pratt & Whitney, a Raytheon company. Other investors in VerdeGo’s Series A round include DiamondStream Partners, Seyer Industries, Avfuel Technology Initiatives Corporation, Standish Spring Investments, The Hatter Angel Network at Stetson University and Welojets.
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