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Transportation Power Hardware

Electric Airplane Ready For Production 239

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the nuclear-powered-planes-out-next-month dept.
MrSeb writes with news about a production ready electric-hybrid airplane. From the article: "... The four-passenger carbon fiber aircraft isn't really an electric plane but more of a plug-in hybrid plane, much like the Chevrolet Volt. Whatever it is, the Volta Volare aeronautics company of Portland, Oregon says the plane can travel 300 miles on battery power, then a 1.5-liter gasoline engine engages and extends the plane's range to 1,000 miles. The company sees the plane being attractive for its low cost of operation and its environmental friendliness. Aviation gasoline is typically leaded fuel, which has been gone from motor vehicle fuel since the 1980s. On a 200-mile trip in a comparable four-passenger gas-engine private plane, you'd burn $80 worth of avgas, while the electricity to carry the GT4 200 miles would cost only $20 — nice savings, but perhaps a little inconsequential when the plane itself is expected to cost around $500,000. Testing begins this spring on the Volta Volare GT4."
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Electric Airplane Ready For Production

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  • by Ukab the Great (87152) on Wednesday May 02, 2012 @08:30AM (#39867115)

    Do you have to divert power from life support?

    • That seems short-sighted. Unless you can restore life support quickly after avoiding the crash, you'll find yourself suffering quite a protracted and distressing death. I'd take insta-death over asphyxiation any day of the week.

      Besides, you know full way that to avoid a collision you reverse the polarity of the tractor beam and divert warp power to the manoeuvring thrusters.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by SJHillman (1966756)

        It has two different power sources - batteries and an engine - I would assume either is capable of providing enough power for the basics on its own. I also don't see a plane this small flying at such an altitude that losing power would lead to loss of life support being a fatal issue before the pilot could descend.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        That seems short-sighted. Unless you can restore life support quickly after avoiding the crash, you'll find yourself suffering quite a protracted and distressing death. I'd take insta-death over asphyxiation any day of the week.

        The agony of typical asphyxiation is caused by the brain generating a distress signal from being unable to aspirate. If you are aspiring normally, albeit with (ultra)low oxygen concentration levels, you will simply slip into unconsciousness due to hypoxia. Your body has no alarm signal to detect oxygen deprived environments, which is why carbon monoxide is so dangerous (besides the fact that haemoglobin binds to carbon monoxide more easily than oxygen or carbon dioxide).

    • by tnk1 (899206) on Wednesday May 02, 2012 @08:59AM (#39867431)

      I'm holding out for the model with the beam-core antimatter engine. Antimatter is very expensive, but a little goes a long way.

    • by Stele (9443)

      Surely diverting power from the deflector dish would be the better choice.

    • by na1led (1030470)
      Maybe they can Eject the Core (Battery) to reduce weight in case of emergency.
  • Sounds FAN tastic

  • Solar (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SJHillman (1966756) on Wednesday May 02, 2012 @08:34AM (#39867169)

    Could you increase the range by mounting solar panels on the body of the craft? It wouldn't be enough to keep it flying indefinitely, but it might slow the rate of drain on the batteries.

    • Re:Solar (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jaymemaurice (2024752) on Wednesday May 02, 2012 @08:36AM (#39867193)

      I'd think that depends on the weight of the solar panels... they'd have to be more efficient then the cost to carry them. And I'm sure light panels would not make this $500,000 plane any cheaper.

      • Re:Solar (Score:5, Funny)

        by Ol Biscuitbarrel (1859702) on Wednesday May 02, 2012 @08:46AM (#39867283)

        How about having the prop double as a wind turbine? Then you could fly forever. I'm always telling people about how we could just mount turbines on the roofs of cars and power the engine; they're inevitably enthusiastic about this idea. /sarcasm

        • by Joce640k (829181)

          You're joking of course, the prop is needed to power the aircraft so it wouldn't work.

          What you need is small trailing generators - in the airflow no longer needed by the aircraft. Two small generators behind each wingtip and a larger one behind the tail could extend the range by about 20%.

        • I know you're being funny, even without the sarcasm tag...but true story:

          My fiance's father asked me, on the subject of increasing fuel economy, why we couldn't just put generators on our axles to charge the battery instead of the alternator. Free energy! Then use an electric motor to move the vehicle instead of gasoline, free travel!

          Unfortunately, he wasn't kidding.

          • How about a YouTube vid of these notions failing miserably for all to see? I get no end of hits [google.com] on a search of course, and but of course most of those are sincere/marketing.

            Don't know how effective such a demonstration would be; you'd have to have some sort of seal of approval behind it as well for it to carry any import. TED Talk, perhaps? You just can't expect people to grok thermodynamics, any more than you expect the checker at the KFC to be able to enter in "$4.99" on the register instead of stabbin

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by na1led (1030470)
            It doesn't work. You end up creating drag which expends energy to make energy, that's why its only used on braking systems. Same goes for putting a turbine on the roof, the drag costs more energy than the turbine can produce. Sorry, but there is no free energy unless you get it from the Sun.
        • Why bother when you can just recharge VIA lighting strikes!

          Seriously, Volta Volare? I can think of way better names surrounding Thunder, Lighting, heck throw in Thor or Zeus for good measure!

          The Thor Hammer Thunder Zeus Lighting Bolt 3000 for example! Way more manly than the Volta Volare, which sounds like a pansy french philosopher, drinking mincey Chardonnay whilst giving looks of condensation/indignation.

        • by rwa2 (4391) *

          I'm always telling people about how we could just mount turbines on the roofs of cars and power the engine; they're inevitably enthusiastic about this idea. /sarcasm

          Actually, no sarcasm necessary, that actually works quite well:
          http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/thinking-tech/wind-powered-car-travels-more-than-twice-as-fast-as-the-wind/4322 [smartplanet.com]

          As an added bonus, the faster you drive into the wind, the more power you get!

          (wouldn't really work for airplanes, though)

      • It wouldn't make it any cheaper, but a 1 kW solar panel nowadays only costs only about $4,000 - $8,000, depending where you buy it, and who installs it (and of course how much the sun shines). So, compared to $500,000 for the plane, it isn't gonna make it a lot more expensive either.

        And yes, I know that typical airplane engine will use far more than 1 kW (a typical Cessna has 145 hp, or about 110 kW), so it's a marginal amount of energy. Remember that it wasn't my idea to put a solar panel on a plane. I'm j

        • Wings are not flat, so the solar panel would have to be shaped also; that's not going to be inexpensive. But the one thing I found profoundly missing was a Parachute for the aircraft. Other light aircraft use them, why not for this design?
          • you could make the wing a solar panel, no additional fitting costs then
            • by Culture20 (968837)

              Wings are not flat, so the solar panel would have to be shaped also; that's not going to be inexpensive.

              you could make the wing a solar panel, no additional fitting costs then

              But... wings are not flat. ?

          • by nschubach (922175)

            Solar cells I've seen are made from a series of smaller cells. You'd just need to overlay the wing structure with cells wired up and put a thin membrane over it.

          • by Catbeller (118204)

            Because life is not completely safe. If you fly, and you crash, you usually die... we can't make everything as safe as we'd like. Otherwise why leave the house.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        It's been done. [nytimes.com]

    • Re:Solar (Score:4, Insightful)

      by isopropanol (1936936) on Wednesday May 02, 2012 @08:54AM (#39867371) Journal

      It probably would be more beneficial overall if some company would get a piston engine NOT based on the VW bug or a 1970's snowmobile certified for aviation use. A reduction drive is not THAT hard to engineer reliably, especially if it's required to be overhauled every 10000 hours of use.

      Consider the Yamaha Genesis series snowmobile engines.... 130HP from 1L, decent fuel consumption, takes unleaded, Dry-sump design, light weight, won't require careful monitoring of temperature/cowl flaps or mixture, just does it's job.

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        2 cycle or 4 on that engine?

        The fact that they still uses leaded gas surprised me.

        • by tompaulco (629533)
          The fact that they still uses leaded gas surprised me.
          This is not your father's leaded gas. It is 100 Octane Low Lead gas. It is pretty expensive because it is in relatively low demand and so many refineries just do a batch once in a while, and it keeps getting more expensive because more and more refineries consider it not worth the effort.
          There are some aircraft engines that have a supplementary type certificate which permits them to run on automotive gas. Lately, there are some newer planes that are r
          • Re:Solar (Score:5, Informative)

            by tlhIngan (30335) <.slashdot. .at. .worf.net.> on Wednesday May 02, 2012 @11:45AM (#39869631)

            This is not your father's leaded gas. It is 100 Octane Low Lead gas. It is pretty expensive because it is in relatively low demand and so many refineries just do a batch once in a while, and it keeps getting more expensive because more and more refineries consider it not worth the effort.
             

            In North America, there is ONE refinery still producing it. And they pretty much only run a batch once a year - an entire day's production is sufficient for an entire year. Something like all the avgas used in a year is equal to all the regular gas used by cars in a day.

            And the reason most refineries don't do it? They need special equipment - the equipment handling leaded fuel must be separated from the normal unleaded stuff. And there is only ONE company in the world licensed to handle tetraethyl lead (the lead in leaded gasoline), and they're in the UK.

            If it wasn't for the importance of GA and small planes for the economy, it really would be uneconomical to continue producing leaded avgas. (And yes, GA is important - for every idiotic CEO asking for a handout from their multimillion dollar jets, there are hundreds more middle-income people flying for fun/recreation as well as business in little single engine Cessnas and Pipers. Even more with some very neat Light Sport aircraft...).

            Small aircraft engines are decades behind automotive engines in terms of technology. Fuel injection and particularly computer controlled fuel injection are relatively new in small aircraft engines. Some of this is to blame on the immense cost of certification. If you have an engine that works and it will cost 45 million to certify a new engine with new technology and you are going to take X years to make up the cost, then it may not be worth the money and time.
             

            The problem with aircraft engines is that they're expected to deliver rated power continuously. Car engines don't - that 450bhp monster under the hood of that muscle car would probably break down if you tried to run it at 75+% power for hours on end. It just doesn't take much horsepower for very long to get a car moving and keep it moving down the highway.

            And yes, certification is an issue - a lot of promising technology comes from the experimental aviation sector - homebuilts and such - because a lot less certification is required.

        • Aviation engines generally run at rather high compression ratios with significantly less electronic monitoring and control than auto engines, so detonation/knocking is a significant factor. The lead prevents knocking. If you were to look at the engine in an average Cessna or Piper, you'd be appalled at how primitive they are compared to what's under the hood in your car. Magnetos, rather than electronic ignition, carbs or mechanical fuel injection (on later models) rather than EFI...they really are very
      • by rwise2112 (648849)

        It probably would be more beneficial overall if some company would get a piston engine NOT based on the VW bug or a 1970's snowmobile certified for aviation use.

        Like these deisel engines that can also run on Jet Fuel: DA-42 [wikipedia.org]

      • A reduction drive is not THAT hard to engineer reliably, especially if it's required to be overhauled every 10000 hours of use.

        The problem isn't the basic engineering - it's all the certifications for aviation use. While not quite up there with the medical equipment or being flown to the ISS, getting certified for aviation use is pretty stringent.

      • Re:Solar (Score:4, Interesting)

        by icebrain (944107) on Wednesday May 02, 2012 @10:31AM (#39868475)

        There are several problems, though.

        First, certification is expensive, not just due to the paperwork (lots and lots and lots of paperwork) but also due to the regulations being overkill for light airplanes--they're geared more for heavy, complex aircraft like airliners, King Airs, business jets, and so on.

        There are also liability concerns. Decades-old designs have some level of exemption from liability in civil suits, but new designs put the manufacturer at risk of silly lawsuits (even when they are in no way at fault, like a pilot flying into weather he isn't rated to fly into).

        On the technical side, you can't just take a car or snowmobile engine and substitute it in for an aircraft engine of the same horsepower. Airplane engines are designed to produce 75-100% of their rated power indefinitely; most car engines cruise at a much smaller fraction of rated power. Try running your average car engine at 85% power for hours on end, and it won't last nearly as long.

        There are also other issues like maneuvering and gyroscopic forces; not only are aircraft likely to experience more variation in g-forces from turns and aerobatics, but there are also thrust and gyroscopic loads from the propeller to worry about. Running a reduction gearbox simply means your gearbox has to take those loads instead, presenting additional challenges.

        These problems are not insurmountable--they just take time and money. But right now, the market just isn't there. General aviation sales are tiny compared to car sales, so your R&D costs would have to be spread over far fewer units--driving price up and sales down. That's why progress in the area of small aviation piston engines is very slow, and it's why Lycoming et al are still making engines based on 1930s designs.

        • by AB3A (192265)

          Regarding certification: The rule of thumb that most aviation experts use is that certification isn't over until the weight of all the documentation exceeds the weight of the aircraft. There is more truth in this joke than most people realize.

          • by icebrain (944107)

            Regarding certification: The rule of thumb that most aviation experts use is that certification isn't over until the weight of all the documentation exceeds the weight of the aircraft. There is more truth in this joke than most people realize.

            Indeed. These days, I'd almost say it's twice the weight of the aircraft.*

            *I am an engineer for an aircraft manufacturer

    • NASA has done some work with solar-powered electronic aircraft.

      They do work, and offer the attractive possibility of months-long loiter time and remote-control movability(in contrast to weather balloons that cost peanuts to send up; but go where the wind does until they pop or satellites that cost a moderately sized fortune to put into orbit); but these aren't exactly passenger aircraft: We are talking small-payload flying wing designs that are happiest above the cloud layer and are specially constructed
      • by Joce640k (829181)

        "Cost constraints"? On a $500,000 four-seater?

        • Solar cells can get excitingly upmarket as you start demanding bleeding-edge efficiency and minimal weight and bulk... For terrestrial installations, you can frequently get away with just buying more of the cheapies; but if you have limited wing to work with, and actually want to increase flight endurance, you can't really afford to just throw a load of extra mass and area at the problem. That means you'll be buying the good stuff.
        • by tompaulco (629533)
          "Cost constraints"? On a $500,000 four-seater?
          I know a half million seems high to the likes of most of us here, but a half million dollar brand new small aircraft is probably the equivalent of a $35,000 new car. Yes, it is higher than average, but it is not even BMW 7 series level. This is why the new aircraft market produces such a small number of aircraft every year. Most people opt for less than $100,000 for an aircraft which is older, but almost always very nearly as capable, or perhaps moreso. Just l
  • Annuals (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vlm (69642) on Wednesday May 02, 2012 @08:37AM (#39867199)

    How do they handle annual inspections? Replace the battery pack every year?

    On a 200-mile trip in a comparable four-passenger gas-engine private plane, you'd burn $80 worth of avgas

    Who cares, annual inspections for a small plane, assuming no real problems are found, are like $1500 ... every year ... and hanger rental monthly nears the cost of renting a bachelor pad apartment (which makes sense, they're about the same size...)

    The standard /. car analogy is its like making economic decisions about buying a Lamborghini primarily based on how much the windshield washer fluid is likely to cost. If you're sweating the cost of fuel, there is no way you can afford the other much larger costs of aircraft ownership. Wait until your first landing light replacement, just like a cars headlight but it costs 10 times as much (because its aviation) and is only rated at a fraction of the lifetime of a car headlight. Insurance is quite expensive too. You may find the cheapest cost of owning an aircraft... is the fuel.

    • The plane travels at up to 150 mph, using very rough back of the envelope that's about $60 an hour for the gas figure or $15 for electricity. Assuming three 2 hour flights per month for no other reason than it seems a small amount, that’s 72 hours a year. This gives $4320 for gas versus $1080. for electricity

      It seems to me that fuel cost is a significant percent of the overall cost per year. However as others have mentioned if you can afford the half million for the plane, saving money on fuel isn

      • What about the increased fatigue on the airframe due to the extra weight it has to land with, as battery packs are not burned off during the journey?

        • Wouldn't adjusting the ILS settings help out? Try landing at about 2 to 3 knots above stall and the impact will be lighter. I don't think this aircraft is Carrier Rated.
        • My guess would be that the increased fatigue would not be hugely significant as the plane would be specifically designed with that in mind. It's different to the situation with say a 747 that has to land with a full fuel tank. If I recall correctly they generally require an inspection of some sort after a hard landing like that because they're not supposed to be landing with all that extra weight. Though I'm basing this on comments I heard from an instructor more than 15 years ago...
          • The problem is, the energy density of a battery is lower than that of any gasoline based fuels, so the battery pack would be as heavy at least as a full fuel load - lugging that around and then routinely landing with it is going to make the airframe much heavier, and thus less efficient.

            We arent talking about a little bit heavier here, we are talking about pushing it toward the maximums - max land weights and max takeoff weights.

          • by chill (34294)

            Basically the same thing my instructor told me 2 days ago, when I was asking about rated take-off weights vs landing weights.

            Short of a life-or-death emergency, the big planes don't land with full tanks. They'll either fly around in circles to burn off fuel, or dump it -- and deal with a nightmare of EPA paperwork.

            • by vlm (69642)

              Short of a life-or-death emergency, the big planes don't land with full tanks. They'll either fly around in circles to burn off fuel, or dump it -- and deal with a nightmare of EPA paperwork.

              We're well into anecote land, but a former coworker who was a copilot at a major airline before 9-11 had some commentary about during a crash landing you can't be burned by fuel you dumped minutes ago, so if you've got time you dump fuel. Also your landing speed and maneuverability depend on weight, so there seems little point in landing with full tanks if you can avoid it.

        • as battery packs are not burned off during the journey?

          According to TFA, they're Li-Po, so not burning off during the journey shouldn't be a problem.

    • Re:Annuals (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Lumpy (12016) on Wednesday May 02, 2012 @09:15AM (#39867603) Homepage

      Ok, blowing all my moderation to correct some wild innacuracies here.

      Hangar costs, Unless you are uber rich you dont have a hangar, but a parking spot / tie down either in the grass or if you are rich, on some tarmac. there are small fields all over the USA and Europe, in fact they outnumber airports 50 to 1 that will let you park your plane for around $50-$150 a month.

      Annual inspections, $1500.00 Do you realize how much I pay for monthly inspections on my car? it comes out to far higher than $1500 a year.

      I know people that make as little as I do that own and operate a 4 seater aircraft. Contrary to belief, private aircraft can be affordable and safe. In fact most private aircraft are left outside their entire lifetime and only see a hangar when they are in for service like engine overhaul, wing replacement, etc... And those are the high costs you did not mention. You cant ignore a plane like 99% of all car owners do to their cars. The wings have to be replaced after XXXX hours, engine needs to be completely overhauled every XXXX hours... and those numbers are small, most around the 2500 hour mark.

      Yes, AVGAS is the cheapest part of owning a plane. You can buy a Piper Warrior II that is in like new condition, pay for all maintaince, parking, service, upgrades, and AVGAS for 10 years for the price difference to this electric plane.

      It's the same as comparing a honda civic to a Chevy volt. Identical cars, but you save nothing as the extra cost is more than the gas you would buy over a 10 year period. (and yes they ARE identical. I have parked them side by side and sat in both looking things over. the Volt is a honda Civic with fancy electric drive.)

      • by operagost (62405)
        Monthly car inspections? I don't know of any US state that requires it more than once a year.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        ...and I owned a Piper Cherokee for ten years. It cost me $27K to purchase and I sold it last year for the same amount (I did some upgrades over the years like panel mount GPS, new radios, stereo intercom, speed mods, etc). It had a brand new paint job and interior when I bought it, and still looked like a new one when I sold it... because I always kept it hangared and out of the weather. Keep a plane outdoors very long and they'll all deteriorate rapidly, no matter whether they're made of metal, fiberglass

      • by wvmarle (1070040)

        You cant ignore a plane like 99% of all car owners do to their cars. The wings have to be replaced after XXXX hours, engine needs to be completely overhauled every XXXX hours... and those numbers are small, most around the 2500 hour mark.

        I'd wager only the electrical engine and its battery pack need these checks - and I have the feeling that the overhaul/inspection of an electrical engine is much cheaper than that of a gas engine. The gasoline engine of this plane is not flight critical. Without it you just have a very short range but it won't cause you to fall out of the sky.

      • by Jeremi (14640)

        engine needs to be completely overhauled every XXXX hours... and those numbers are small, most around the 2500 hour mark.

        Of course, when your plane can run off of battery for the first 300 miles, it's going to take the engine much longer to reach the 2500-hours mark, since it won't be running much of the time. Dunno how much that would impact maintenance costs, but it seems like it would help.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Excellent point. My auto mechanic tells me that his hybrid customers refuse to spend $5000 to replace the battery pack when it goes tits-up and just run on gasoline.
      For my own purposes, I've been learning a lot about battery tech. Hard core R/C modellers often have a computerized battery analyzer which allows you to plot the performance of the battery and keep a history because they degrade over time and number of charge/discharge cycles. A traditional engine can be repaired but batteries can't.

      IMHO, the

      • by wvmarle (1070040)

        Excellent point. My auto mechanic tells me that his hybrid customers refuse to spend $5000 to replace the battery pack when it goes tits-up and just run on gasoline.

        And lose air-worthyness certification? It seems the electrical part is what keeps the thing flying. The gas engine is no way powerful enough to power that plane on its own. It's fine for cruising, but won't do for take-off or for any other manouvres that require a power boost.

  • $500,000 is a lot of money, but it might be in the ball park with competing aircraft, because aircraft can get very expensive very quickly. I would be interested to see how this shakes out, because fuel is easily more than half of the cost of flying an airplane, at least as far as I recall.

    • The article says it's a step above the Cessna 182. I couldn't find the price of a new Cessna but a used 2007 or 2008 Cessna 182 goes for around $310,000-$370,000. I would imagine a brand new one would approach the $500,000 figure. If all other costs of ownership are comparable, the fuel savings might be worth it for frequent short range flights.

      • I should add that commuter flights - twice a day, five days a week between two cities within the range of this thing and growing more popular in the South - might save as much as $32,000/yr per plane.

      • A 2012 Cessna 182T Skylane costs $398,100 [wikipedia.org], and the turbo version is a little more.

        But, I don't think it's a fair comparison. The Cessna has a 230hp engine, and can carry a useful weight of 1140 lbs. This means you can carry luggage, and get to your destination quickly.

        There's not a lot of details on this electric canard, but I'm pretty sure that it's not going to have nearly the horsepower. Instead of cruising at 190mph, you'll probably max out around 120mph, and won't be able to carry any luggage if all

    • I'd also like to see a comparison of amenities between this plane and its competition. With an electric motor and pusher prop, it probably cruises in silence. The pusher prop configuration probably also allows a more comfortable cabin. This might be the first luxury yacht of air travel.

  • Is that they're typically a lot bigger and capable of carrying heavy loads. I wonder, using similar technology, how far a jet such as a 747 could go if it was filled with batteries instead of cargo/passengers. I know that's relatively pointless, but it'd be interesting to know.

    • by Chrisq (894406)

      Is that they're typically a lot bigger and capable of carrying heavy loads.

      Compare like with like, a Cesna with a car, a small passenger plane with a coach and a large one with a train. Then work out how far each of these could go if packed full of batteries. (this is also pointless but not relatively so compared to parent post)

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      As you said, it would be relatively pointless, but something to consider when thinking about it is this - fuel gets burned off, batteries do not.

      A Boeing 747-8 can carry over 200 tons of fuel - at its destination, it could be carrying as little as 10 tonnes of fuel (or less). The more fuel that gets burned off, the higher the aircraft can cruise, and the longer it can fly because the lighter it gets the more efficient it is at producing lift.

      So you would need a much more efficient battery system to counter

      • by es330td (964170)
        I know that weight decrease efficiency comes into play with commercial passenger aircraft but I question its relevance in general aviation flight. I have flown from Destin, FL to near Houston, TX in a C182 non-stop. While I definitely notice that my performance improves as I reach the latter part of a long flight due to the decreased fuel load, the difference is not enough to include in flight planning. I am very curious to know if any piston GA pilots go that far in their flight planning. Maybe this ma
        • The simple rule is, the bigger the aircraft, the more it matters because it does have an appreciable effect on range and efficiency - Airbus and Boeing are always looking to cut a tonne here and there out of their aircraft, because it gives them an immediate range increase (for example, cutting a tonne out of an A380s OEW weight gives you anther couple of hundred miles of range - that can make the difference when we are talking about Singapore to LA for example - or it means less fuel need be carried, more

  • I hunted around and it seems that a new four-seater with decent avionics will regularly run a half million dollars, so shrug.

  • Ahh No it isn't (Score:5, Informative)

    by LWATCDR (28044) on Wednesday May 02, 2012 @08:43AM (#39867257) Homepage Journal

    Wow what a load of fantasy.
    1. They have not even built the prototype yet.
    2. 300 mile range on battery? Not a chance.
    Until they fly it at Oshkosh or Sebring and get FAA certified it is pure fantasy.
    Rule one of general aviation is never get excited over a rendering or illustration of a new plane. 9 times out of 10 it will never see the light of day.

    • by Chrisq (894406)

      2. 300 mile range on battery? Not a chance.

      The trick is in the "can go", after all people have flown 3,008 km [wikipedia.org] without any power at all,

      • Record Glider; single seat; relies on thermals (not present at night) or topographical features (not present on the prairies) for lift, spends much of it's time circling in lift to gain altitude, average speeds much lower than 160 knots(re record glider had a best LD speed of 51 knots), large wing span, no cargo capacity, one off custom prototype, relied on other aircraft for takeoff and initial altitude.
        Aircraft in article; 4 seats, independent of atmospheric lift, 160 knots, much shorter wing span, produc

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      I don't agree with you on the specs. The numbers definitely do add up.

      This plane (concept, exists only on the drawing board, etc) is supposed to fly all-electrical for 300 miles, but with the 1.500 cc petrol engine it should be able to reach 1,000 miles. So the petrol engine alone is enough to power the plane.

      The plane is supposed to cruise at some 160 mph, so 300 miles that's about 2 hrs battery-only. That doesn't sound unreasonable when compared to modern hybrid/electrical cars, and hybrids have a petrol

      • by wvmarle (1070040)

        Oh and I should add: the gasoline engine doesn't have to be so over-engineerd and über-reliable as the one of the Cessna. It's not flight-critical, so regular (and nowadays highly reliable) car engines could be used, saving a lot of cost. It kicks in at 25% battery power, so if failing still 25% battery or some 75 miles of flying left. With such a range it shouldn't be too hard to find a place to land.

    • Even at Osh'Kosh, you can't spit without hitting someone's dream of the next big idea for an affordable consumer plane. It will be parked there, looking all beautiful, and some guy will hand you a brochure stating how affordable it will be, once it is finally available.

      I've always wondered how many of these actually go into production. My guess is that they underestimate how expensive it will be to put a new design into production. Not only are the insurance costs astronomical (yes, something like 50% of

    • by demonbug (309515)

      Wow what a load of fantasy.
      1. They have not even built the prototype yet.
      2. 300 mile range on battery? Not a chance.
      Until they fly it at Oshkosh or Sebring and get FAA certified it is pure fantasy.
      Rule one of general aviation is never get excited over a rendering or illustration of a new plane. 9 times out of 10 it will never see the light of day.

      Yeah, that was my favorite part of this article. "Ready for production, and here's an artist's impression to prove it!" Sorry, but "Ready for production" does not mean you have a drawing and a dream; it means you have built a prototype and proven the systems and performance.

  • Some reality checks (Score:5, Informative)

    by million_monkeys (2480792) on Wednesday May 02, 2012 @09:31AM (#39867791)
    It's definitely cool to see this in development, but there's a lot of suspect claims going on. And of course no talk of the downsides of being electric.

    The GT4 uses an array of 236 off-the-shelf lithium-polymer batteries weighing 900 pounds. The company says the battery pack and 600 hp (peak) electric motor weigh less than the internal combustion engine on a comparable plane,

    so 900 pounds of batteries + ? pounds the electric motor (i guess we're ignoring the weight of the backup gas engine plus the 140 pounds of gas to fuel it) weighs less than the engine on a "comparable plane". Here are some planes and engines:

    Cirrus SR22 (4 person, 180 knot cruise) engine: Continental IO-550-N (~450-500? pounds)
    Cessna 182 (4 person, 140 knot cruise) engine: Lycoming IO-540-AB1A5 (~450 pounds)
    Cessna 210 (6 person, 190 knot cruise) engine: Continental Motors TSIO-520-R (~450 pounds)
    Diamond DA40 (4 person, 150 knot cruise) engine: Lycoming IO-360-M1A (~300 pounds)

    Full fuel for most of them is would add ~550 pounds, so total ~1000lbs, barely more than the batteries alone on the electric one. It seems like they pulled this weight savings out of their ass.

    Volta Volare says low maintenance costs will be a big attraction. The gas engine on a private plane needs an annual inspection that could cost several thousand dollars. In comparison, the GT4 could get by with a simple diagnostic checkup by laptop: Just plug in a USB cable to the electric motor.

    Not in the USA it won't, at least if they want the FAA to certify it. I wish I could be there when they propose that just to see them get laughed out of the building. This is the same agency that will declare a plane unairworthy because it doesn't have a sticker saying what kind of fuel it uses. And again, they are ignoring the backup gas engine. Even if they let the USB thing slide, the backup gas engine's gotta be inspected just like every other gas engine. I'm doubtful of the massive savings they are implying

    Some of the electricity-not-gasoline savings are nice but still dwarfed by the purchase price that is likely to be over $500,000.

    That sounds like a lot, but new planes are expensive. The cost (new) of the planes listed above, not including various optional equipment:

    Cirrus SR22: $600K-$700K
    Cessna 182: $400K-$450K
    Cessna 210: out of production, but likely around $550K-$600K
    Diamond DA40: $350K

  • Internal combustion engines tend to become a lot less efficient at high elevation where the air is less dense. Being as the electric engine isn't burning anything, it might not be as hindered by this (although of course it still needs to move air). If they want to make a gas-electric hybrid, why not use the gas for takeoff, climbing, and landing, and then use the electric for level flight at higher elevation?
    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      Most of the power use of a plane will be for cruise. Take-off uses a lot of horsepower but that's fairly short.

      Electrical engines and battery packs do very well when it comes to delivering a power boost, like you need to get a plane off the ground. That's also why a hybrid car can do with a much smaller petrol engine than a similar petrol-only car: the petrol engine needs to provide the cruise-level power only in a hybrid, no need to be able to output the peak requirement.

      Cruise is when you want the petrol

  • If the plane is deemed to quiet and must create an artificial engine noise, I really hope it has the option to sound like the jetson's craft.

    • I think the X-wing noise would be fun on a stunt plane. Combined with the music from the channel attack scene XD

    • by Jeremi (14640)

      If the plane is deemed to quiet and must create an artificial engine noise, I really hope it has the option to sound like the jetson's craft.

      If you're worried about hitting unsuspecting pedestrians, you're flying too low :^)

  • If we're going to argue about the economics of the thing, a key piece of information is missing. What is the TBO on the power plant? What is involved in an overhaul and what will that cost. I can imagine the fuel savings being huge on a frequently used aircraft of this type (think traffic reporter), but if that's eaten up in maintenance costs, what's the point?
  • That seems a hell of a lot for a 900lb pack that can take the plane 300 miles. And even if that is the case then the plane won't be going anywhere near as fast or high when the batery runs out and its running on 1.5L engine alone, because short of being turbo charged to within an inch of its life a la F1, it won't be producing anything like 600hp!

    • Turbos have been banned in F1 for decades now. They still do that in pro drifting though (see: Ken Gushi's FR-S)

    • by Pontiac (135778)

      I think the 600hp was a mistake..
      http://www.voltavolare.com/specifications
      The Volta web site shows the motor as 300hp..
      The backup gas generator is 180hp

  • This idea seems crazy to me. Where I am all for "being green" in situations where it makes sense, I don't see how this idea can be made workable.

    The main issue with small aircraft is useful payload. You may have 4 seats, but there is no way you can safely fly them with 4 adults, bags and full tanks because you will be way over the max takeoff weight. In most 4 seat aircraft If you take a full fuel load, you are going to have to limit yourself to 2 adults with minimal baggage. Or you can take half the

  • by rubycodez (864176) on Wednesday May 02, 2012 @10:16AM (#39868297)
    Environmentally unfriendly low-density batteries with very limited capacity, plus a gasoline engine that can efficiently go over 2x the range and emits water and carbon dioxide. who needs the expensive electrical system, braggers? Small planes are not even a minor source of pollution compared to fossil power plants, automobiles, and ground transport.
    • by asylumx (881307)
      Agreed, but we shouldn't ridicule people who pursue new technology. Just because the first iteration doesn't make sense doesn't mean its descendants won't.
  • The interesting aspect of this technology could be the savings on required periodic maintenance once this type design has established some reliability statistics.

    Initially, the FAA might mandate a pretty thorough and frequent check schedule. But given the simpler construction of electric motors, this could be significantly relaxed after some time. Likewise, the batteries will need to be checked and replaced. But here too, battery failures could prove to be gradual, with a reduction of capacity being an

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