Keep your eyes on the ball because electric aviation has taken off with such a steep angle of attack (AoA) that it makes the electric car world look like a snail race.
Four years ago, when I was lamenting the fact we didn’t have electric aviation, only Pipistrel and a handful of projects were being tinkered with in basements and garages. Today, the Vertical Flight Society’s eVTOL.news tracks no fewer than 220 projects — and the number is growing. Whereas 13 years ago, I knew all of the electric cars and had test driven them, today, I can’t keep up with the latest. I’ve had to focus on startups just to keep up to date. And the same has happened (and past) in the aviation field. Boeing and Airbus are investing a lot of money into what is called urban air mobility (UAM).
UAM isn’t new. Helicopter rides from JFK to NYC, Nice to Monaco, and most airports to downtown centers have been happening for decades. What is new is electricity. Electricity is the new UAM enabler and nothing is stopping it, save for the fairly slow but regular pace of battery innovations. Today, all eyes are on solid-state technology. Labs are relentlessly working on various chemistries — lithium-sulfur batteries and lithium-metal batteries being two of the hottest directions.
Here are some newsworthy stories defining and shaping the world of electric aviation:
Team Condor Goes Electric — Air Race E
If you want to gauge the success of a new industry, look no further than racing. Electric aviation is spawning new and renewed airplane races, including drones and manned races.
The soon-to start Air Race E airplane will have a piloted e-racer, with Team Condor Aviation as one of its teams. Most candidates are either developing their own aircraft, retrofitting existing airframes, or building from scratch, as we previously reported in our interview with Jeff Zaltman, CEO of Air Race E. The rules are simple: Aircraft must have similar size and comparable performance to classic racing planes and go on the same course layout and eight-lap configuration as the formula air races.
The Team Condor Aviation Air Race E e-racer is a retrofit of a Contra-Electric twin-motor, contra-rotating-propeller powertrain. The fuel tank was replaced with a 20 kWh battery pack. It was flown at the 2019 Dubai Air Show. The Air Race E retrofit meant repositioning the center of gravity for its new (high) power-to-weight ratio. The retrofit was done with commercially available components. However, the team had to design a custom propulsion system to make it air race worthy.
The Community Air Mobility Initiative Is Up and Running!
I’m excited to have been on the call of the Community Air Mobility Initiative (CAMI) explaining how this UAM advocacy group has laid out its strategy.
In a nutshell, CAMI will work with local governments and entities to represent them at the federal level.
While our cities have grown ever more three dimensional, our transportation options remain stubbornly flat. The result is wasted time, negative health impacts, and harmful pollution. Integrating a new generation of cleaner and safe aircraft technology tapping into the potential of the third dimension promises a mobility revolution. What is it? How does it work? How do we implement it in a way that benefits everyone in our communities? How do we know that this new technology, this new “urban air mobility,” will be safe, clean, quiet, and truly useful? These are some of the questions on which CAMI will focus.
I will follow up soon with a more in-depth article on how and why CAMI is important and what it will bring to the table.
China’s RX4E Has Taken Off
Don’t blink for a second, and keep your eyes on the ball — China has successfully flown its electric 4-seater, the RX4E developed by the Liaoning General Aviation Research Institute of Shenyang University of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
According to Zhao Tienan, Vice President of Liaoning General Aviation Research Institute, the takeoff weight is 1,200 kilograms (2,645 lb), with a 1.5 hour flight time and a 300 kilometer (186 mile) range. It can cruise at 200 kilometers per hour (~125 mph). He added: “With the development of battery energy storage technology, the flight time and range of RX4E can be further improved.”
If history is a trusty teacher, this means China will unleash more research power and funds to “catch up” to the West. We can easily predict eVTOL aircraft and electric fixed-wing aircraft from China within 2 to 3 years.
Yes, additionally, eHang is about to start the first manned eVTOL service in Guangzhou this month, a first in history — well, known history at least.
Another First In Aviation History — Harbour Air Maiden Electric Seaplane Flight
Here’s another important aviation first, and I’ll follow up with an interview this week. Harbour Air had its maiden electric seaplane flight December 10. I previously wrote about what the company is doing here.
TexasUP, the Secret Conference for the eVTOL Elite
Whoosh — the über-cool and secret eVTOL gathering already went by, defining a new class of aircraft, discussing better batteries, advanced autonomy, sophisticated air traffic management systems, and functional vertiports. The TexasUp event highlighted a fundamental requirement: money, lots and lots of it. This was was the third UP leadership summit.
Ampaire & Electro.Aero Team Up For Aviation Rapid Charging
The Electro.Aero’s Rapid 30 is a mobile charger that can be carried inside the aircraft and can deliver up to 30kW of DC power from 300V to 1kV for the Ampaire EEL. The Rapid 30 charger was designed to meet the AS6968 SAE Standard for Conductive Charging of Electric Aircraft.
That’s it for now, and stay tuned as I resume normal activities with more stories coming up soon, once I settle in for a few weeks of no traveling. In the meantime, safe flights to everyone in e-aircraft!