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Transportation Power Hardware

Electric Airplane Ready For Production 239

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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  • Solar (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SJHillman ( 1966756 ) on Wednesday May 02, 2012 @09:34AM (#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:Annuals (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Wednesday May 02, 2012 @10:15AM (#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 Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 02, 2012 @10:58AM (#39868081)

    ...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, wood or rag & tube.

    I'm not rich either, and did not spend the majority of my disposable income on flying. My hangar rent was $125/month and I guess I spent about as much on aviation as I would have if I bought a brand new full-size fully loaded 4x4 extended cab pickup truck every 3 or 4 years like so many of the folks do here in rural northern Texas that make less salary than I do. My annual inspections ran from $500-1000 each year, and the Cherokee burned 8.5 GPH and would cruise at 125 MPH at 75% power. It would literally get you to most destinations in the 200-500 mile range in literally half the time, or better, than driving, and it got the equivalent of around 14 MPG, and was STC'ed to burn unleaded auto gas too.

    I'm now in the middle of buying by 2nd airplane, this time it will be an experimental. I rarely needed the 4 seats of the Cherokee, and want to go much faster, so I'm buying a Van's RV-6 experimental that will cruise at 190+ MPH @ 75% on the same 8.5 GPH fuel burn.
    Experimental is the only way to go, but the purchase price is considerably higher but I can legally do all the maintenance and mods I wish myself, and not be shackled by the FAA regs that restrict what you can and can't do to mod a factory airplane. My annual "condition inspections" can be done by someone with only an A&P cert, they do not need an AP/IA, so my A&P buddy will essentially do them for me for free. I've helped build 4 of these Vans RV kitplanes over the years, so I probably know more about maintaining and inspecting them than the A&P does.

  • Re:Solar (Score:4, Interesting)

    by icebrain ( 944107 ) on Wednesday May 02, 2012 @11:31AM (#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.

God help those who do not help themselves. -- Wilson Mizner