October 2009 Issue
Electric Aircraft: This Idea Has Legs
We have the technology today to move two people for two hours at 85 MPH or better. But itís too early to know real-world safety, utility, reliability and costs.
Itís almost a truism that aircraft performance numbers are a smoke-and-mirrors act where best-case scenarios are pushed forward as simple facts. Looking at the numbers we have to remind ourselves that real-world compromisesóno, you canít fill the tanks and the seatsóare kept off the table. Weíre beginning to smell the distinct aroma of aviation optimism, spiked with a twist of marketing, in the new arena of electric aircraft. With an opportunity for those potential buyers to put deposits down on kits or power systems within the next 12 months, itís time to take a close look at where this new industry stands. Electric flight in enclosed light airplanes is practical with todayís technology. Yuneec International and Electric Aircraft have both flown proof-of-concept aircraft on battery power for dozens of hours. Sonex has a couple of years invested in systems development. None of these companies have hit the two-person, two-hour, 85 MPH mark, but they are close enough that we can believe itís within the grasp of incremental improvement. The bad news is that we have no solid way to benchmark these designs. This is a new arena where we can only make educated guesses.
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