An All-Electric Plane Takes To The Skies

With climate protests and airline strikes occurring around the world, there is more awareness than ever before for the necessity of environmental sustainability. More importantly, there is more discussion around the immense carbon footprint left by the airline industry, perhaps one of the largest contributors to climate change worldwide.

The Slovenian-based Pipistrel ALPHA Electro is one of the leading electric planes today, with bragging rights as the world’s first mass-produced electric aircraft. While NASA may have announced their X-57 Maxwell, the plane is still undergoing testing for its first planned flight in 2020. The ALPHA Electro, marketed as a trainer plane for flight students and recreational flyers, features a 34’6″ wingspan and low running costs.

The two-person flyer is equipped with a 60 kW electric motor, with a cruising speed of about 157 km/hr. A 21 kW battery provides the plane with enough energy for a 55 minute flight, with a half hour reserve, and takes about an hour to charge back up. An additional perk of flying an electric plane is the low noise and zero CO2 emissions, which allows the flights to take place near large cities with exhaust and noise emission standards.

With airplanes, a majority of the fuel is used for takeoff and landing, making short haul flights particularly troublesome – compare 107 lbs CO2 flying from New York to Boston versus 62 lbs CO2 driving. While refraining from frequent flights is still the best idea for reducing your carbon footprint, we’re hopefully headed towards more environmentally-friendly options for air travel.

Check out the ALPHA Electro’s teaser video below.

[Thanks to steelman for the tip!]

89 thoughts on “An All-Electric Plane Takes To The Skies

  1. “…and zero CO2 emissions”
    should that not be “the POTENTIAL of zero CO2 emissions”, unless it can be guaranteed that the plane is only charged by sources that supply CO2 emission free energy. A thing that’s easily discarded when promoting anything electric.
    Which doesn’t mean that I don’t like the project, sure I do, but we must stay focused.

      1. Because there’s not a great deal of loss at the well-head and refining compared to the amount of loss you get when you generate electricity, manufacture batteries, maintain the grid etc.

        The petroleum infrastructure is quite efficient because the fuel is so dense in energy that a big truck carrying a tank of gasoline or diesel will only consume some parts per thousand of the fuel carried over 1000 miles, whereas the electric grid will lose 6-7% of the power transmitted over just 200 miles on average.

        This is why, when all things are considered, electric cars right now are just moving the CO2 emission to a different smokestack – or worse when you consider the inefficiencies of quick-charging and parasitic power use or self-discharge, AC heating costs etc.

        (Also remember to compare actual energy consumption, rather than EPA figures for the EV kWh/mi)

        1. Also, since so much of the grid is still running of fossil fuels, why don’t you include the well-head emissions, refining losses, etc. for getting fuel to the power plant?

          For example, what is the cost in CO2 and pollution to ship wood chips from Canada to the UK to burn in their new converted biomass plants?

        2. 6-7% of electrical power losses over 200miles?? That’s crazy.
          Power generation is getting greener as solar and wind are lowering costs, while ICE will keep pumping gasses on your front door for all its service life.

          1. Overall losses are about 5% nationally in the US. You lose more the longer you transmit, so when California buys coal power in Utah to charge cars as night (which it does) it adds up.

          2. Power lines have ohmic losses, and capacitive leakage, and over longer distances also radiation leakages. You can take a fluorescent tube under a high voltage power line and it will light up dimly when you ground the other end.

            The grid loss in the US ranges from 2.2% in Wyoming up to a whopping 13.3% in Idaho. California is also pretty bad at 9.2% while the national median loss is about 6.5%

            People assume electricity is efficient because it’s higher tech than burning fuel, but it’s more complicated – more steps where losses can occur.

            http://insideenergy.org/2015/11/06/lost-in-transmission-how-much-electricity-disappears-between-a-power-plant-and-your-plug/

          3. >You lose more the longer you transmit

            That’s why there’s all the talk about HVDC and superconducting power lines. With renewable power, the transmission distances are increasing because the local demand doesn’t match the local supply, so the power has to be transmitted out of state, or even across the entire continent. This increase losses to the point that making and pumping liquid nitrogen through a 1000 mile super-insulated hose full of exotic materials costs less than the amount of power that would be wasted.

            The maximum transmission distance for a conventional AC line is about 2,500 miles, although the losses will be so high it’s almost useless. Transmitting power from west to east coast happens in a “bucket brigade” of intermediate power plants that supply the same customers in between, so they can transmit their own capacity’s worth of power to the next area. This limits the amount of power that can be transmitted by the weakest link in the chain.

        3. Not even close, it take more energy/emissions to make a gallon of gasoline than it does to drive an EV 20 miles. Attempts to get actual emissions from the Fossil fuel industry has been shut down by the industry. Between oil leaks, methane leaks and flare off the industry has worked hard to hide actual numbers. EV owners are much more likely to be solar owners.

          If the Fossil fuel industry wants to get any credibility they can start by acknowledging what their own scientists discovered in 1978 and start account ting for their huge carbon impact!

    1. Why worry about it? This is just a beginner model, still a long way to go, before replacing 747s. I’m fairly certain most of the electric vehicles will be mostly useless, like in California during wildfire season. The electric grids need some major upgrades everywhere on earth, switching to renewable. Not really a bad idea, and been needed done for decades. Unfortunately, many of the renewable goals are set for 2050, not a lot of time, for a huge, worldwide project. Those on hydro and nuclear won’t have it so bad, but the coal and gas dependent areas are in for some interesting times. They need to workout how to integrate multiple power sources, at least 3 different technologies. Solar and wind aren’t constant output, so there will need to be something to fill the gaps. Essentially everything going electric, all at once, is a burden we aren’t prepared to handle. Transportation uses a lot of fossil fuels,

      200 passengers on a 747, would need at least 200 of these to travel, since not many are pilots. And there are hundreds of commercial jets in the air, all the time. Doubtful most people will want to travel less, or be willing to take a month or so at sea. Not many electric boats either, though wind is an option, quite common a couple hundred years ago.

      We may eventually replace fossil fuels, but not at such a fast pace, as demanded. We’ll lose the use of many of the technologies made possible. We really aren’t like to go a couple hundred years in the past, with horses, sailboats, and no planes.

    2. I like the idea too, but the production of the battery is even worse than the fact that they might be fueled by non-green energy.

      Turns the production for a battery of an midsized elecrtic car costs more Co2 than a similar car actually driving 200.000km, which is insane.
      It does not have to be that way, but chinese companies which tend to be the main producer of lithium cells mainly use power generated by coal, which seems to be the main reason why it’s still kind of a bad idea to go full electric at this point.
      ‘zero CO2 emissions’ makes me cringe quite a bit.

  2. This will be fantastic for flying schools! Negligable motor maintenance and minimal fuel costs. Not sure if it’s feasible for cross country trips with such a short range though.

    1. Flying schools tend to run their planes pretty much non-stop during the working hours.

      In some cases we even switched crews with the engine still running to save time :)

      One hour flying and one hour charging would half their efficiency.

        1. It didn’t bhappen all the time. Only when necessary to make sure people get a chance to actually fly when the schedule had been messed up by WX. Also preflight checks are the easiest thing to practice. Nobody gets off the ground without knowing how to follow a checklist :)

          It was in fact quite rare but I just wanted to illustrate that having a plane on the ground 50% of valuable training time is not an option. Unless that plane costs 50% of an ICE version which I doubt.

          1. This isn’t the case with certificated aircraft, but in many homebuilts, the engine is 60-75% of the materials cost, and I suspect even with the FAA certification process, you can’t make a 45 horsepower electric motor cost even half of what a similar Continental A65 would cost. I’m not finding a comp right off but I found a very used O240 for $22K, and that’d be about $6K to rebuild to approximately new condition.
            I’m wondering where they put the batteries, and if it’s in the wings, how much work it’d be to have a battery swap system set up.

            Huh. There’s an interesting thing about electric planes I hadn’t considered: no weight shift during flight, so you don’t have to put the batteries at the center of gravity. You also don’t get a lightweight rocketship at the end of the flight.

        2. Really? How hard is it to pre-flight a Cessna 172? As a kid I had the procedure memorized within my first few flights. Not much point in repeating it hands on (if the plane has already had a proper pre-flight right before) when you can quickly go over it with your instructor to maintain the habit and then get to learning the actual process of flying the darn thing.
          Heck, 30 years later, I could probably perform a passable pre-flight on a light aircraft, and I haven’t even flown in that time span.

      1. Do you have any idea what aviation fuel costs are when you run an gas aircraft all day? My Piper Cherokee burned about 10 gal per hour at $5.00 per gal. In an 8 hr day thats $400.00 per day. Don’t forget you will also need to stop the gas plane periodically because it cannot go all day on a single tank of fuel.
        An electric airplane can run on Solar, wind, Hydro electric, nuclear, coal, and who knows what else. If some gets lost in the transmission who cares if your making power from renewable sources like wind and solar.
        We have already tried the gasoline route. Thats how we got here. Lets look ahead. Electric planes and cars are one solution to the pollution. NOT GAS.

        1. I sold my beautiful little 2 seat Bolkow 208 C so I can buy the Pipistral [when I can afford it] and agree with Larry! In NZ we are 98% renewable so electric aircraft make sence,I have a B Mive van so I am pro EVs and a anthopogenic climate change activist so the trolls and ACC deniers on this site will dis me ,but Air NZ is talking about buying E aircraft so that will be good for our tourist industry !
          40 years ago I built my 41ft [12mtr] yatch so I still have a little materialistic urge in me …….it is hard to let go of your past programming but we must all change if we don’t want to completely destroy our beautiful blue ptanet!

  3. This will fill the huge gap in the airplane market. It’s time that we had a plane that travels at 100 mph but has an average speed of 50 mph (incl. charging time). And no mention of the type of battery/ies used?

  4. >”compare 107 lbs CO2 flying from New York to Boston versus 62 lbs CO2 driving”

    You mean, riding a bus? That’s what your sources reference.

    The thing about buses is that they’re not actually that efficient – the average ridership is usually low compared to the capacity, especially with cross-country coaches. The emissions depend highly on the average number of people on-board per average mile, and in general you need about 5-7 people to ride the bus for it to break even with a regular passenger car with just the driver.

    A car packed with four people will outpace and under-emit the bus.

    1. Assume the car has an economy of 40 MPG and a coach gets 5 MPG. The bus would have to carry at least 8 people to match the fuel economy of the car with four people in it.

      This is difficult to achieve, because buses have to drive regular routes and there’s not always passengers. Charter coaches are a different matter since they’re usually hired for the purpose. But if you just take Greyhound bus across the US, there’s not going to be very many people in it for most of the journey.

      https://www.reference.com/vehicles/gas-mileage-coach-bus-d76aa8c1b1f96084

      1. Actually, if you calculate per 1000 miles, then a single passenger in the car has a share of 6.25 gallons, so the bus would have to carry 32 passengers to meet the same per passenger fuel economy.

        8 passengers compares to a single person driving a car.

    2. “compare 107 lbs CO2 flying from New York to Boston versus 62 lbs CO2 driving. While refraining from frequent flights is still the best idea for reducing your carbon footprint, we’re hopefully headed towards more environmentally-friendly options for air travel.”

      Yeah, some screwy numbers. A Van’s RV-8 will get 20 mpg at 210mph. A 400 mile trip is 2 hours and 20 gallons versus a road trip of more than 7 hours and about the same fuel. National light vehicle average in the US is about 24mpg now, but the average doesn’t mean much – I can’t find a figure for the median.

      Anyway, NY to Boston is 190 miles or a 1 hour flight by RV = 10 gallons. By car it is typically about 5 hours with fuel burn of ???

      There is also a nice single-seater with electric option(? soon?) from Aeromarine called the Merlin. The electrics will be fun to follow, but this constant PBS/NPR angst about carbon footprint and plastic straws and grocery bags when there nations are building many coal plants and still dumping in the oceans is cartoonish and Orewllian.

  5. Was just reading about electric cars. Kind of odd, two small companies from relatively small region (combined pop. 6m) challenging big players – Slovenian Pipistrel with all sorts of electric planes, Croatian Rimac with it’s monster Concept Two.

  6. Simple: Because it might be true! There’s already plenty of electricity around from solar/wind and the percentage is increasing every day.

    It seems to me like _you’re_ the one repeating useless mantras to yourself.

    1. CO2 is great for the ocean as well, makes a nice carbonic acid cocktail. Makes those shells so thinner, much more convenient for those health conscience crusteans and corals. Why should they suffer from body image issues. It’s like only 70% of marine life relies on coral reef environment, we have lots of extra fish right.

  7. I’m still bemused by how everyone is “concerned” about climate change. The climate has been changing since before there were humans, like a heartbeat. OMG! It’s state is changing! Quick! Put a stake in it! It will be inconvenient for some, but we’re on a living planet. It doesn’t exist for your convenience and comfort. The fact that people are distressed over not being able to fix a problem cooked up by political leaders shows a lack of understanding. Of political leaders.

    1. Totally. It’s like car crashes. Cars stop all the time, it’s been happening as long as there’s been cars. So why be concerned about a collision?

      What really bemuses me is how people still make this tired, facetious argument like they’re the only person who’s thought of it, or that it doesn’t take more than the most cursory of examinations to realize it’s a completely ridiculous thing to say. Just like bringing your car to a stop, rate of change is everything.

      1. Why muster any concern and accept even the slightest inconvenience to effect change when you can base your opinion on a zero effort, juvenile view of the issue? Throw in a little “gut feeling” and your decision to do nothing is golden. Spend time actually investigating complex issues? No way, that’s for libtard saps.

        I’m afraid we’re screwed unless A- the morons in society die out sooner than expected, or B- society comes to the revelation that unless you’ve made some effort to understand a complex issue, you really shouldn’t form a hard opinion on it.

        Unfortunately, I don’t see either of those as likely.

    2. Do you disagree with the models that predict that if we do not change our CO2 emissions that in the long run large parts of the world will become unlivable? How long we can continue our behavior before it bites us in the ass is something no one can give a definitive answer to but I do think that the eventual result cannot be disputed. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to prevent something disastrous just because the same has happened before. I think it is selfish to consciously create a problem that our future generations will have to solve, don’t you?

    3. Accidentally reported unintentionally… sorry.

      However, the problem people are concerned about isn’t climate change- it is the rapid pace of climate change. Historically/Geologically climate change has existed, but has been extremely slow, allowing many species of plants an animals to adapt, move, and otherwise survive. When you look at recent and modern history, the temperature graph is a vertical wall in comparison to the gentle swings of the past- comparable to the effects of a large asteroid impact or etc in terms of rate of change, and said change continues to accelerate. If we continue down this path, the long term viability of the ecosystems that support human life are at significant risk, many of the wildlife will cease to exist, and we will have quite the awful and barren planet to live on. What is the point of that?

      1. Yes, but is there an effect? I mean beyond employment for climate reporters and lobbying groups. A 10mm change in sea level per decade is not going to flood any people – or turtles. A storm surge is as much as 7.5 meters – that is the extent of a real sea level change and we see them all the time. Why is Miami still there?

    4. ‘How everyone …’ Well, not everyone. My thought exactly. ‘Cooked up’ is right. A ‘talking’ point to stir up (and control) the populace.

      Neat concept full scale aircraft though. We have been flying electric model airplanes now for a few years too… Fun ‘toys’.

    1. Tesla supercharger is 150kW. Obviously you can’t scale linearly without vaporizing your batteries. But 220V at 50A is 11kW, right? That’s 1/3 of the service I have to my house.

  8. Why not just convert the roofs of the T Hangers into solar panels. Since most general aviation is weekend flyers then the recharge during the week is truly zero carbon impact. Better than the 10 mpg I get in my Piper. Nice article.

  9. That’s a really cool plane, but I think it’s probably better suited to what a friend of mine calls “a $500 lunch”, where you and a friend hop in the plane and fly to some restaurant that’s near an airstrip somewhere, and then fly back home again after eating lunch.

  10. “With climate protests and airline strikes occurring around the world”

    What have airline strikes got to do with this article? Are you implying if your travel is disrupted by a flight crew/cabin crew/ground staff/ATC strike then you now have the opportunity to fly your own plane that happens to be battery powered?

  11. Anyone complaining about carbon dioxide really needs to re-take the basic science course that they taught us in third grade. Plants eat carbon dioxide and sunlight, they return oxygen and then grow larger. Some of them are even kind enough to return food to us. Some, even returned to us certain controlled substances that a lot of people seem to really care for. In those situations you’ll find enterprising people actually pumping carbon dioxide to their plants.Their plant food, if you will, is the carbon in the carbon dioxide. It’s a process called photosynthesis. Trees And plants have been the original solar panels since before man even wandered on the earth. They continue to be the most efficient solar collectors on the planet and will for quite some time. You’re not doing them any favors by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide out there. It’s basic science folks. Don’t let the crazies set the narrative. Worrying about carbon dioxide omissions is about one of the most useless things you can do. “If only you give me more money and power over your lives, I will change the weather for you”

      1. “CO2 is a gas present in the atmosphere in a natural way in a concentration of 250 to 350 ppm.
        350 to 1000 ppm is a good quality concentration in an enclosed room. This is what the Earth is, a confined space.
        1000 to 2000 ppm, the air quality is low.
        From 2000 to 5000 ppm, CO2 concentration starts to cause problems (headaches, insomnia, nausea). It is a dirty air.
        From 5000 ppm, the presence of other gases in air is altered, arising a toxic atmosphere or poor in oxigen with fatal effects as the concentration increases.”
        http://www.aragonvalley.com/en/effects-of-co2-in-humans/#.XbdFhZJKhhE
        Please define flooded for me. I would stay in a room at 1200 ppm for two hours without a qualm, and that is more than 3 times the atmospheric value.

  12. “With airplanes, a majority of the fuel is used for takeoff and landing,”
    That’s a lot of noise and fuel wasted for two diametrically opposed actions, don’t you think? If only there was some way of capturing the energy of one and utilizing it for the other….hmmm…..
    Seems to me, if someone were to come up with some sort of system of, say, maybe some cables across the runway that a plane could catch with some sort of hook or something that would use the inertia of the landing plane to drive a mechanical or electrical energy storage device(flywheel, compressed air, battery bank, giant capacitor), thereby decelerating the plane, and then using that energy to power the launch of another plane with some sort of, oh, I don’t know, an embedded, rail sliding, catapult shuttle sort of thingy that the plane could hook onto, or something?
    Ok, so maybe it’s not obvious to a lot of people because they think the launch and capture of Naval aircraft is necessarily elaborate because of the limits of runway size, but there is no practical reason why this can’t be done at commercial airports. (Naval Air Stations already have the recovery hardware installed for FCLP. ) And since you are not limited by runway length on the ground, there’s no reason for the T&Ls to be so sudden and violent as carrier based operations. They can induce much less wear and tear on the aircraft. With a system like this there is no reason to burden the aircraft with holding the extra energy for these actions, thereby extending it’s range or flight duration dramatically. There is also quite a lot of places around airports to mount solar panels to offset energy losses in the system.

    Your thoughts, please.

    1. I suspect most of the energy in landing is lost from loosing altitude and speed long before you wish to be anywhere near the ground of a conventional runway.
      Imagine though something like a really big slide that the aircraft lands on an has a cable energy recapture all the way to the ground. I think more energy would be wasted in the construction of the goliath than could be re captured.

      Another point you could fantasize about, the regenerative type breaks on large planes i think just dissipate the energy from breaking as heat. Maybe conductors on the runway could capture the electrical current opposed to having it dissipated as heat? Probably a massive safety risk to the ground crew, having some times electrified rails on the ground.

    2. Thats one way to reduce air traffic. Im pretty sure a lot od people would stop flying if they had to be ezposed to the constant excess Gs of going from 0 -165 mph in two seconds and then going from 165 – 0 at the same rate.

    3. I’m pretty sure the landing is not particularly fuel hungry. This idea must come from the efficiency of turbofan engines at lower altitude and power settings? Still sounds fishy. The descent profiles are computed to minimize fuel and a modern jetliner at cruising altitude can loose power 175 miles or more from the destination. IIRC a C141 could shut off engines over Portland and land in Seattle.

      1. The reason the miles per gallon efficiency is low for general aviation landing is you are doing things like vectors and pattern approaches which burn fuel and don’t result in much progress from point a to point b.. Flying slowly, making turns with flaps isn’t as efficient as flying high straight and level.

  13. As with every type of EV the issues will always boil down to range, load capacity, recharge time and infrastructure to support them.

    I suspect that this project won’t go anywhere unless some form of financial inducement (subsidy) is permitted. Left to real-world economic forces (as everything should be) it will never get off the ground – no pun intended.

    1. We’re probably looking at at least one path of the future. They’re going to mess around and extend the flite time to an hour and a half and then more, make batteries that are made out of foamed unobtanium that are really light and powerful, etc.
      I definitely won’t shed a tear when Marvel tractor carburetors or fuel injectors, carb heaters, spark plugs, mixing for EGT, and very expensive annuals for internal combustion engines goes away. Good riddance.
      It might not be there today but our iPhones and Androids wouldn’t exist but for truly primitive palm pilots and blackberry devices.

      1. “They’re going to mess around and extend the flite time to an hour and a half and then more”
        that is going to happen only when they will invent the a kg that weights 500 grams.
        as usual with all electric vehicles, numbers are heavily massaged. if you look close enough, you will find out that this very expensive airplane is only good to circuit over the home airfield. endurance is ridicolously and DANGEROUSLY low. i never take off with less that enough fuel for 2 hours, and this thing will not have half that at full charge.
        “and very expensive annuals for internal combustion engines”
        annuals are expensive because they are mandatory and in aviation maintenance is pure extortion. electric airplanes maintenance will be as expensive. the idea that electric vehicles are cheap to maintain is pure nonsense.
        and btw i do my own “annual” (i do it when i want/need not when a freaking bureaucrat wants) and it rarely costs more than 200 dollars.
        then there is the small issue of several electric airplanes that went down on fire, and considering how few electric airplanes there are, thats an alarming issue.
        then consider this: this a/c will be usable only with a fully charged battery. or would you take off with a half discharged battery, and a potential 30 minutes real endurance? no he?
        now look at the charging profile of a lithium cell. 1 hr turnaround? nooope. and you will need power to recharge, something that is not readily available in airports.
        electric vehicles : smoke and mirrrors, cheat and lie.

        1. Glass half full/empty. I’ve learned to never bet against primitive developing technologies. All you have to do is look at the continuing advancements in drone batteries and motors to see the future of electric general aviation planes.

  14. “compare 107 lbs CO2 flying from New York to Boston versus 62 lbs CO2 driving. ”

    After checking these websites, I discovered a flaw in these comparisons. They only include total CO2 emissions. You have to take into account per passenger CO2 emissions. Unless you are driving a bus that only produces 62lbs of CO2 for the trip from New York to Boston, and that bus is carrying the same number of passengers as the plane, then this is nothing more than “lies, damn lies and statistics.”

  15. How do I tell if the carb is icing!!!

    How much warm up time?

    No FI’s deadpan ‘what’s your mixture’.

    “We’re trying to stretch it all the way there but she’s no getting lighter!”

    Sorta like getting your motorcycle licence on your girlfriend’s auto-scooter.

    Surely for flight schools, someone will come up with an easy swapable battery pack(s). One’s charging, one’s cooling, and one’s in the plane out on a lesson. All packs charged over-night.

  16. Have they found out why one of these went down in a lake in Norway?
    The engine lost power, but why? Overheating? Blown fuse ;) ?

    They both survived, so they should be able to help the investigation.

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