What I Want Under the Christmas Tree is…Electrifying! #blogformation post

Future of Flight

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Future of FlightIn the spirit of the Holidays this month’s Blogging in Formation (#blogformation) series will cover What We Want Under our Christmas Tree. Based on the picture above, you might get the impression I want to give up our airplanes for flying saucers, not really.


What I do want is a revolutionary, game-changing, paradigm-shifting, alternative to internal combustion power for general aviation. Simple right?


It needs to be convenient, clean, non-explosive, cheap, and quiet. Sounds like a tall order, but the reality might be closer than you think. 


Although not yet viable by most standards, electric propulsion seems to be the leading contender to satisfy my wish list – plus more. The Mr. Fusion device from Back to the Future will work, but it’s not October 21st, 2015 yet. Until then, the flux capacitor powered airplane will have to wait. 


Electric propulsion is also vibration free, extremely low maintenance – very few moving parts – and eliminates pesky engine starting issues. If you’ve read previous articles from here you’ll know I’m a big fan of electrically powered aircraft.


Electra C FlyireJust a handful of years ago electric aircraft were the exclusive domain of homebuilders and tinkerers. I remember going to Oshkosh in 2007 and seeing Ron Fishman’s electric trike and then a year later he brought an impressive Moni motor glider. That same year Sonex announced their electric powerplant development efforts.  Fast forward five years, we have broken the 200mph speed barrier and even bigger outfits are getting into the game. A couple of the S-LSA manufacturers are actually making production examples, albeit they are more like motor gliders than LSAs. An encouraging sign is that large companies and organizations like GE, Siemens, EADS, NASA, and the military are also getting into the act. 


With the cost of fuel overseas, it’s probably not surprising that the rest of the world is working aggressively towards this goal. Companies in France, England, Austria, and China – to name a few – are spending millions developing viable electric airplanes. Oh, the tinkerers are still at it and they may actually lead the charge, no pun intended. I have a good friend and hang glider pilot who developed his owner electric propulsion system with off-the-shelf components to allow him to self-launch.


E-FanOf course the holy grail of electric flight is lightweight, safe, high-energy, long-lasting batteries. It’s hard to beat the energy packed into a gallon of gasoline so batteries have an uphill climb to get anywhere close. Everything right now is focused on various derivatives of the Lithium battery and with the proliferation of portable consumer electronics, there’s billions of dollars going into R&D every year. Even so, most experts believe it will be 15-20 more years before the technology matures enough to really make a difference for airplane folks. I’m optimistic that it’ll be sooner and with the escalating price of gas, necessity will indeed be the mother of invention.


With all the benefits I know we’ll get there eventually. I can imagine a day when my grandkids joke about how grandpa would fly his airplane around with gallons of highly explosive gasoline on board, and how he would have to wear clumsy headsets because of the deafening noise. Oh and what about his embarrassing hot start episodes that struck fear in the hearts of his passengers. They will also laugh about the sheer complexity of our engines with hundreds of very precise moving parts that at any moment could destroy itself and render the aircraft a glider (think mechanical vs digital clock and you have the idea).


Benefits are also apparent in design flexibility. Batteries don’t get lighter the longer you fly, like fuel tanks do, so they don’t have to be near the CG. Also, the motors are much smaller and lighter and can be mounted in many places that would be a nonstarter for gas engines. You could even contemplate thrust vectoring with the right design! Watch out Sean Tucker!


Other benefits are more indirect, but no less impactful. With the largest cost component removed from the equation what would a typical e-flight look like?



200 hp IC (Internal Combustion) single engine out for a one hour flight costs $85.00 an hour*

Fuel: 10gph at $6.50 a gallon = $65.00

Engine reserve at $10 an hour (assuming a $20,000.00 overhaul or replacement every 2000 hours)

Maintenance reserve at $10 an hour


200 hp electrically powered aircraft out for a one hour flight would cost $30.00 an hour*

Fuel: Plugged into my 110 volt hangar outlet – free

Engine/Controller reserve $10 an hour (assuming a $20,000.00 overhaul or replacement every 2000 hours)

Battery reserve at $10 an hour (same assumption)

Maintenance reserve at $10 an hour

*not counting fixed costs like hangar, insurance, subscriptions, upgrades, etc…


That’s not an insignificant difference folks. That would change the entire industry by making flying so affordable, virtually anyone could do it. Because the technology would lend itself better to lower cost manufacturing, the purchase of the actual aircraft could be cheaper too


I love my Lycoming and I’m even a little sentimental about those unsightly dinosaur remains that has successfully fueled our flying for over one hundred years, but it’s time for a change. It’s time to revolutionize the general aviation equation in a way that jet engines have done for the airlines and the military so many decades ago.


While many would bemoan a “spark” under the Christmas Tree, that’s exactly what I seek.


by Brent Owens


This week, six aviation bloggers will again join forces to provide a series of common posts. Think of us as “blogging in formation” (#blogformation) for the next six days. This month’s theme will be – What I Want Under the Christmas Tree in honor of the holidays.

You don’t want to miss this. Tune in to the specific blog listed below on the appropriate date and you’ll be glad you did.

And if you like what you see, share it with your friends! #blogformation

You can see the posts at:

Dec. 1: iFLYblog – Brent Owens

Dec. 2: Airplanista – Dan Pimentel

Dec. 3: Smart Flight Training – Andrew Hartley

Dec. 4: Flight to Success – Karlene Petitt

Dec. 5: House of Rapp – Ron Rapp

Dec. 6: Adventures of Cap’n Aux – Eric Auxier

The series runs from December 1 – 6, 2013

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