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Alpha Electro takes to the skies

Alpha Electro at Jandakot Airport. Source: Pipistrel.

Pipistrel delivers the first serial production model of its Alpha Electro electric trainer aircraft to an operator in Perth, Australia

2018 is shaping up to be a year of major advances in battery powered aviation.

Following the announcement of a 4-seater Aero Electric Sun Flyer last year, as well as the maiden flight of Siemens’ Extra 330LE 18 months ago, aircraft maker Pipistrel announced the delivery of the first serially-built Alpha Electro model to e-aircraft operator Electro.Aero in Australia.

On January 2 the aircraft took off from Perth’s Jandakot Airport and conducted two circuits around the airport. It then went on to complete another seven hours of flying over the following two days before being handed over to its new owners.

The aircraft received a Special Certificate of Airworthiness from Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) in October 2017.

According to specifications published by Pipistrel, the Alpha Electro (formerly dubbed the WATTsUP, under its EU development project name) offers a max output of 60kW and weighs just 350kg including batteries –enough to carry a 200kg payload capacity (a pilot and passenger). Power is provided by a 21kWh battery. All told, this offers a max speed of around 70 knots – 65 if climbing – and a max climb rate of about 1,220 feet per minute, with enough juice to keep it in the air for about an hour.

You can see the aircraft in action in this 2015 video:

An interesting note is the system’s scope for power regeneration when the aircraft is descending or cruising at low speeds, where the propeller acts as a wind turbine feeding power back into the system.

Richard Charlton, Electro.Aero finance director said in a statement that the first flight was smooth: “It was very much without drama. We were just in the pattern behind a normal aeroplane and the control tower was very excited. They knew all about what was happening.”

He added that the main benefit of adopting such aircraft actually comes from a servicing and maintenance point of view. “The main issue with petrol is the maintenance costs of what is a more complex engine,” Charlton said. “The electric engine is really simple. It has one moving part, it’s a very small piece of equipment and it is a solid-state motor.”

While it may not yet be suitable for long-haul flying, it’s perfect for the short sessions and predictable performance required by a trainer aircraft. Indeed, Pipstrel general manager Ivo Boscarol said that all-electric trainer aircraft would help lower the cost of becoming a pilot:“Technologies developed specially for this aircraft cut the cost of ab-initio pilot training by as much as 70%, making flying more affordable than ever before,” he said. “The biggest advantage is being able to conduct training on smaller airfields closer to towns with zero CO2 emissions and minimum noise.”

Serial production. Source: Pipistrel.
Serial production. Source: Pipistrel.

The Alpha Electro can be registered in Australia as either a recreational aircraft or with CASA. In both cases it can be used for training, including to obtain a private pilot’s licence (the first such electric aircraft that to offer PPL training).

Currently, Electro.Aero is offering trial instructional flights with the Alpha Electro, but intends to offer flight training all the way to recreational pilot certificate in the near future. Judging by its website, it may also act as a seller for the aircraft, as well as for the SunFlyer 2 and 4, which will be available in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

 

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