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Building Sun Flyer

By Bill Moore

Powered by the convergence of advanced electric drive technologies and composite materials, students are soon going to learn to fly in Aero Electric Aircraft Corporation's Sun Flyer electric airplane.

From the moment I climbed into the front seat of that Piper Cub, I was hooked. I had wanted to learn to fly since I was a kid back in Nebraska. Now I was getting my first 'unofficial' lesson from an old flight instructor. Tate Mauzy was his name and he had rebuilt the bright yellow, 65 hp two-seater himself and flew it out of his grass strip in the mountains near White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. We flew over to the airport near the famed Greenbrier Hotel to top off the gas tanks. The unspoiled mountains along the Virginia-West Virginia broader are awesome from the front seat of a Cub as they slide majestically under that big fat tire protruding below you.

Not long after this I'd be flying this same area in a Cessna 150, earning my private pilot's license and accumulating a modest 125 hours of flying time in the Cub, a Taylorcraft, a Piper 180, a Cessna 172, and the Cherokee Six.

Then I moved my little family to California and my flying days came to a screeching halt. It simply cost too much to live in the Golden State compared to West Virginia. Apart from a brief hop in a T-6 Texan over Champaign, Illinois, my flying is now limited to walking aboard commercial jetliners and taking a cramped seat, usually near the back of the plane for flights miles above the earth.

The cost of general aviation flying - meaning piloting your own airplane - has only climbed into the stratosphere, pricing it out of my reach and those of millions of other would-be aviators and aviatrixes who would discover the same enthralling joy I did that day in West Virginia so long ago.

If the two gentleman I interviewed in this EV World Dialogue have their way, that situation is about change. Learning to fly or just doing it for the sheer pleasure will not only become affordable again, it will also become a lot more environmentally responsible.

George Bye and Charlie Johnson are forming a company called Aero Electric Aircraft Corporation to develop, build and sell a two-place Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) trainer based on the work of German aeronautical engineer Calin Cologan. Their composite-based airframe will pick up where the single-seat PC-Aero Elektra One [pictured above] leaves off.

Based in Denver, Colorado, the company will debut an Elektra One at the EAA annual fly-in convention in Oshkosh, Wisconsin this summer. It will be powered by the same all-electric propulsion system to be used in the trainer, which they have named Sun Flyer. Their development goal is to create a trainer with up to three hours of flight endurance, including reserves and utilizes swappable lithium batteries. This will enable flight schools to quickly return the aircraft and its student pilot back into the sky.

In this two-part video, Bye and Johnson talk about their plans and how an all-electric flight trainer is now possible with the convergence of powerful, but small electric motors, more energy-dense lithium batteries, the miniaturization of control electronics, and the evolution of super-light, but strong composite airframes.

Of course, they're not alone in this electric air race of sorts. Giant Airbus in Europe have now flown the E-Fan, also an electric trainer. There are two similar all-electric aircraft in development in China, and here in the United States, Randal Fishman's Electric Aircraft Corporation is developing its own two-place e-plane called the ElectraFlyer X, as well as a single seat ultra-light motor-glider.

It will be interesting to see who gets to the flight school market first. And maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to take to the air again, this time on solar wings.

Video Part 1

Times Article Viewed: 15014
Originally published: 06 May 2014

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