Electric ultralight aircraft and electronic light aircraft are the future of flight! Fuelled by on board batteries rather than AvGas, these ELAs are perfect for flight training, such as circuits. Read on!
Today, we’re talking all about electric ultralight aircraft and Electronic Light Aircraft (ELAs).
Driven by the advances in battery technology, the new generation of aircraft is embracing electricity as a propulsion mechanism. Electric planes, in particular ELAs and ultralights, are redefining our approach to flight training and recreational aviation, despite facing certain challenges with endurance.
Soaring into the Future: Understanding Electric Ultralights and ELAs
Electric ultralights and ELAs are a modern take on a classic aviation concept. Just as their traditionally fuelled counterparts, these aircrafts are compact, agile, and relatively simple to operate, making them ideal for recreational flying and training purposes.
Instead of conventional internal combustion engines fuelled by avGas, these aircraft use electric motors powered by an on-board battery pack, making for a complete electric propulsion system. This significant change brings with it a host of benefits, despite a conservative flight time, including quieter operation, zero direct carbon emissions, and lower maintenance and operating costs, owing to the simplicity and reliability of electric motors.
“Dovetail is certifying an integrated electric system that includes electric motors and batterypacks (soon also with hydrogen fuel cells for longer range) to turn existing airframes into zero emissions commercial aircrafts for short flights.”dovetail.aero/technology
A New Approach to Training
With their simplicity and eco-friendliness, electric ultralights and ELAs are uniquely suited to a training environment. Currently, the endurance of electric planes can be over an hour flight time, thanks to improvements in battery technology. While this is still less than their AvGas-powered counterparts, it’s sufficient for most flight training sessions, particularly those involving circuit training.
Circuit training, a crucial part of flight training where student pilots practice take-offs, pattern flying, and landings, typically happens in proximity to the airport. The current endurance of electric aircraft aligns perfectly with these short, repetitive flights. Moreover, these aircraft bring a new dimension to flight training, as student pilots must learn how to monitor and closely manage battery usage, an essential skill for the future of electric aviation – or any high-performance, low-endurance aircraft such as Aerobatic aircraft.
Battery Endurance: Landing before Lights Out
Just like traditional aircraft that need to land before running out of fuel, electric planes need to land before they run out of full power on batteries. Pilots, therefore, must be acutely aware of their aircraft’s energy consumption and remaining battery life during flight.
As pilots, we’re trained to consider fuel reserves. The same principle applies here, but with battery reserves. As battery technology continues to improve, we can expect to see increased endurance in electric aircraft. Still, even with the current limitations, these aircraft have plenty to offer.
Electric Ultralights and ELAs: A Look at the Current Landscape
Companies around the globe are recognizing the potential of electric aircraft and are pushing boundaries.
The Pipistrel Alpha Electro: an ELA Developed by the Slovenian aircraft manufacturer Pipistrel, has made waves as the first electric aircraft certified by the FAA for flight training. With a cruise speed of 85 knots and an endurance of around 1 hour (plus a 30-minute reserve), it’s a strong contender in this emerging market.
You can read about how the Pipistrel Alpha Electro is setting Australian firsts in this ABC News article.
Opener BlackFly: In the ultralight category, we have the Opener BlackFly, an all-electric personal aerial vehicle with a range of 25 miles and cruising speed of 62 mph. With a total of 8 propulsion systems spread across two wings, the BlackFly offers an easy-to-operate, fun, and eco-friendly flight experience.
Bye Aerospace eFlyer: The eFlyer, developed by Colorado-based Bye Aerospace, is an electric aircraft currently under development aimed primarily at flight training and personal use. The two-seat eFlyer 2 model offers an endurance that’s competitive with traditional internal combustion engine aircraft, making it a promising candidate for flight schools.
Charting the Future: Electric Propulsion in Aviation
The rise of electric ultralights and ELAs signals a broader trend in the aviation industry toward embracing cleaner, more sustainable technology. Electric propulsion is no longer a distant dream, but a present reality, and it is paving the way for a new era in aviation.
While endurance remains a challenge, advancements in battery technology and energy management systems are narrowing the gap between electric and traditional aircraft. More importantly, electric ultralights and ELAs are offering an unparalleled opportunity for aspiring pilots to learn the nuances of electric flight.
In conclusion, the shift towards electric propulsion in aviation is more than just a trend. It’s a bold step into the future, promising cleaner skies and a more sustainable industry. The rise of electric ultralights and ELAs is an exciting chapter in this journey, setting the stage for an electrifying future in aviation. As we continue to explore and harness the potential of this technology, one thing is clear: the sky’s no longer the limit; it’s just the beginning.
Are we going to see fast advancement of ELAs in the near future? Short answer? Yes!