A decade ago, talk of electric airplanes was more fantasy than fact. Sleek sailplanes might sport a small motor and battery for extend their time in the air, but beyond that, the concept just wasn't practical at a commercial level. Then Solar Impulse circled the planet on solar-power alone. Industrial titans like Siemens and Airbus took serious interest in the idea. A handful of startups like Aero Electric Aircraft Corporation jumped into the electric trainer plane market.
Most recently, a trio of firms have gotten funding to build pure electric and hybrid-electric commercial aircraft, including a three year-old startup in Israel called Eviation. What began as a drone project to test the concept has now evolved into the quest to build a 9-passenger, two crew member all-electric commuter plane, ideal of short-haul flights to smaller airports where the low operating costs of an e-plane make the economics more compelling.
Heading up Eviation's fast-track, or I might say, fast-taxi efforts to put their plane in the air by no later than 2020, an admittedly ambitious target, is Omer Bar-Yohay. From his backyard in Israel, he took some 36-minutes to talk about their project, which has engendered a fair amount of exciting, as well as skepticism: can you really built a 12,000 pound airplane and power it only with lithium-ion battery pack equivalent to ten Tesla Model S electric cars storing 980 kWh of energy?
And speaking of those batteries, which initially won't be the reported aluminum-air batteries first reported, but standard 18650 cells like Tesla currently uses, according to Bar-Yohay, they'll be stuffed everywhere in the plane, including the seats. They won't be swapping batteries as some trainer designs are testing. The goal is a plane that can fly a couple hours and have up to 60-minutes IFR reserve flying time to reach an alternate if weather closes in. Also, early models will not be pressurized, flying below 12,500 feet, though future versions could be as battery density allows for longer flights at higher altitudes.
Be sure to listen to both parts of the interview.
First Published: 2017-07-05
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