Ampaire’s Second Electric Eel Sets Record

There are now two Ampaire electric EELs* flying, courtesy of Ampaire Aviation.  The second test vehicle recently set a world record, staying in the air for two hours and 32 minutes, covering 341 miles at an average speed of “around 135 mph.”
A six-seat Cessna 337 “Skymaster,” the “push-pull” twin has been modified by Ampaire “with an electric motor in the nose and traditional [internal] combustion engine in the rear.  The paired powerplants act as a parallel hybrid, both electric and ICE units providing thrust simultaneously.

Ampaire flew an electric-and-gas-powered Cessna 337 this year. With assistance from Ikhana, a modification and conversion specialist,  Ampaire replaced the 337’s rear engine (which drives a pusher prop) with an electric propulsion system, leaving the forward engine in place.

It is now swapping the configuration around – putting the engine in the back and moving the electric system forward, with batteries removed from the cabin and installed in a pod under the aircraft.

Ampaire’s partner on the 337, Hawaii-based Mokulele Airlines, will fly the aircraft in this new configuration in the first quarter of next year, according to Brice Nzeukou, Ampaire Product Manager.

A Quite Normal Cross-Country Flight

Ampaire reported, “The craft took off from Camarillo Airport just north of Los Angeles at 12:20 PM. Test pilot Justin Gillen and Flight Test Engineer Russell Newman, flew up California’s Central Valley at 8,500 feet, landing at Hayward Executive Airport at 02:52 PM.” Gillen explained, “The mission was a quite normal cross-country flight that we could imagine electrified aircraft making every day just a few years from now.”

The record flight followed four weeks, 23 flights, and 30 hours (“with 100-percent dispatch reliability) since the Hawai‘i Bird first took to the air.  Ampaire’s general manager Doug Shane said, “Our success in taking this aircraft in a short period from the test environment to the normal, everyday operating environment is a testament to our development and test organization, and to the systems maturity we have achieved with our second aircraft.”

Flying over California’s Central Valley, Ampaire’s second electric EEL sets record distance for hybid electric flight

The Hawaiʻi Bird, so named because it will take part later this year in a series of demonstration flights with Hawaiʻi-based Mokulele Airlines on its short-haul routes, will be partially disassembled in Hayward for shipment to Hawaiʻi. The Hawaiʻi flight trials are funded in part by Elemental Excelerator, a cleantech incubator headquartered in Honolulu.

Ampaire’s  electric EEL will serve as “a testbed aircraft for the development of high-powered electronics, inverters, motors, and related systems.”  A platform for developing scalable technology and certification processes, the EEL can also serve owner-flown, charter and short-haul regional airline/cargo carriers.  The EEL will have operational costs cut with fuel savings of 50 to 70 percent and maintenance costs only 25 to 50 percent of the conventionally-powered original.  The hybrid electric system will provide safe transport between islands, able to hop 200 miles with reserves while carrying three passengers or 450 pounds of cargo.

According to Ampaire, “These flight demonstrations will mark the first time an electrically powered aircraft has flown under an FAA ‘Market Survey’ experimental aircraft certificate in order to gain real-world flight experience.”  Beyond Mokulele’s interest, PAX (Personal Airline Exchange) ordered 50 EELs last year.

*According to Wikipedia, “EEL refers to the original 337 designation, with the characters reversed.”

A Four-Motor Electric Otter

Ampaire’s CEO Kevin Noertker said, “The Electric EEL is our first step in pioneering new electric aircraft designs. Our next step will likely be a 19-seat hybrid electric retrofit program that will lower emissions and operating costs, benefiting regional carriers, their passengers and their communities.”

Ampaire and aircraft services company Ikhana have been designing a 19-seat (or 4,000 pounds of cargo) hybrid-electric aircraft based on the popular de Havilland Twin Otter aircraft, to be called the Eco Otter SX, since October 2019 as part of a NASA-funded project.

“Twin” Otter as shown at DLR symposium, but with four motors

Like the EEL, the Otter will save 20 to 30 percent on fuel and 10 to 25 percent on maintenance. The Twin Otters may become four motor craft with hybrid propulsion using a Diesel engine to generate electricity and a full electric system, according to Brice Nzeukou.

The companies expect to complete their study by the end of the year and have the modified 337 certificated by the end of 2021.  Even grander plans are on the horizon.

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If, as the infamous cartoon in the New Yorker proclaimed, “Money is life’s report card,” Jeff Engler’s Wright Electric got a least a B+ for its current semester.  While not as flush with cash as firms like Joby Aviation, eHang, or Volocopter, Wright received significant recognition for its initiative in designing high-efficiency electric motors with a high-frequency inverter and “an aggressive cooling strategy.”  The $647,039 ARPA-E grant will further Wright’s work on the ARPA-E ASCEND Project.

ASCEND stands for Aviation-class Synergistically Cooled Electric-motors with iNtegrated Drives, a sure-fire Scrabble winner and pretty tortuous acronym. Phase one of the project takes the team through the detailed design and subcomponent testing for the system.  Phase two will see Wright build and demonstrate the system.

Only a startup in 2017, Wright Electric has managed to partner with easyJet, a European budget airline, to develop a 186-seat electric aircraft called Wright 1.  With others in startup mode flying six and ten-passenger aircraft and looking forward to 19-seaters, Wright’s plans are ambitious indeed.  To help create their hybrid electric aircraft solution they also partnered with Airbus, hoping to reach power densities beyond 12 kilowatts (16 horsepower) per kilogram.  GreenCarCongress offers the comparison of current jet fuel-burning turbine engines that achieve approximately 6-9 kW/kg.

GreenCar Congress adds that, “The innovations across the electric propulsion system will aid the development of aircraft flying entirely on electric power. Single-aisle and twin-aisle aircraft that carry 100 or more passengers account for more than 90 percent of global emissions from commercial aircraft.”

That is very much the market in which EasyJet is involved and fits very well with their plans with Wright “to develop an all electric aircraft program as part of a shared goal to decarbonize aviation.”.

David Morgan, Director of Flight Operations for easyJet commented: “We are excited to see this news as funding is going to be so crucial in unlocking the potential of new technologies so this marks another step on their journey to developing their all electric aircraft.

easyJet remains absolutely committed to more sustainable flying and we know that technology is where the answer lies for the industry. We are committed to collaborating on the development of these new technologies – as demonstrated by our support of Wright Electric – with the aim of being an early adopter when they come to market.”

Jeff Engler, CEO of Wright Electric said, “We could not be more happy to collaborate with the experts at ARPA-E on the future of aircraft design. Since 2016, Wright Electric have pioneered efforts to advance aerodynamics and propulsion technologies and we remain focused on our ultimate goal to produce a fleet of zero-emissions commercial airplanes.”

The Centre for Aviation reports, “Since last November, easyJet is the first major airline to operate carbon neutral flights across its whole network. The airline is achieving this goal by offsetting the carbon emissions from the fuel used for all of its flights. The airline sees this as an interim measure until new technology becomes available to decarbonize aviation. In the meantime, easyJet remains focused on operating its fleet as efficiently as possible using modern, fuel efficient engines which are quieter and burn less fuel. Since 2000 easyJet has reduced the carbon emissions for each kilometer flown by a passenger by over one-third (33.67 percent) and has a target to reach a 38-percent reduction by 2022.”

You will notice variations in the Wright 1’s configuration over the last few years.  This image shows the most current.

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Aalto University in Espoo, Finland has announced a seemingly impossible breakthrough – black-silicon solar cells that exceed 100-percent efficiency.  This breaks the Shockley-Queisser limit, previously thought to be an unbreakable barrier to any solar cell generating more than 33.7-percent efficiency for a single p-n junction photovoltaic cell.  The 1,000 Watts of sunlight falling on a square meter of single-junction solar cells could never produce more than 337 Watts to a battery or other receiving mechanism.  William Shockley, a co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics for his co-creation of the transistor and Hans-Joachim Queisser defined this limit at Shockley Semiconductor in 1961.

Light landing on forest-like black silicon generates more electrons than photons striking cell: 30-percent more in Aalto cells

In a traditional solid-state semiconductor such as silicon, a solar cell is made from two doped crystals.  One is an n-type semiconductor, which has extra free electrons, and the other a p-type semiconductor, which is lacking free electrons, referred to as “holes.” When initially placed in contact with each other, some of the electrons in the n-type portion will flow into the p-type to “fill in” the missing electrons.

For an overview of the limit and the physics involved, this link provides some insights.

Even the Researchers Disbelieved

Aalto reported the new solar cell’s “efficiency was so high that at first the researchers had a hard time believing the result.”  Their black silicon photodetector reached above 130-percent efficiency, exceeding the 100-percent external quantum efficiency limit at ultraviolet wavelengths.

Professor Hele Savin, head of the Electron Physics research group at the University explained, “When we saw the results, we could hardly believe our eyes. Straight away we wanted to verify the results by independent measurements.”  To confirm the findings the German National Metrology Institute, Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB), known for accurate and reliable measurement services, performed independent measurements.

Dr Lutz Werner, head of the PTB Laboratory of Detector Radiometry, commented, “After seeing the results, I instantly realized that this is a significant breakthrough – and at the same time, a much-welcomed step forward for us metrologists dreaming of higher sensitivities.”

 Unique nanostructures

If one photon hits the surface of a solar cell and generates one electron to an external circuit, the efficiency of the solar cell would be 100 percent.  Most solar cells remain well below the Shockley-Queisser limit giving in electrical current only a portion of the solar energy striking them.  Aalto’s black silicon cells are unique in sending 1.3 electrons into the circuit for every photon strike.

The University explains, “The researchers found out that the origin of the exceptionally high external quantum efficiency lies in the charge-carrier multiplication process inside silicon nanostructures that is triggered by high-energy photons. The phenomenon has not been observed earlier in actual devices since the presence of electrical and optical losses has reduced the number of collected electrons.”

Black silicon enables broader responsiveness to wider range of light wavelengths

Professor Savin adds, “We can collect all multiplicated charge carriers without a need for separate external biasing as our nanostructured device is free of recombination and reflection losses.”

Looking at the improvements possible in devices relying on solar cells, Dr.Mikko Juntunen, CEO of Aalto University spin-off company, Elfys Inc., notes, “Our detectors are gaining a lot of attraction at the moment, especially in biotechnology and industrial process monitoring.”  Elfys already manufactures these black-silicon cells for commercial use.

Implications for Aerospace

Imaging a Solar Impulse or Sunseeker Duo which needs far smaller wings and solar cell arrays.  Aircraft performance could be enhanced, construction costs reduced, and general utility bordering that of many general aviation craft engendered.  Reportedly lower costs of black silicon cells would certainly make their use an attractive proposition.

More efficient solar cells would make smaller solar aircraft plausible as shown with early version of Calin Gologan’s PC Aero design

Published Results

M. GarinJ. HeinonenL. WernerT.P. PasanenV. VähänissiA. HaarahiltunenM. Juntunen, and H. Savin published their findings under the title, “Black-silicon ultraviolet photodiodes achieve external quantum efficiency above 130%,” in the journal, Physical Review Letters.

The abstract provides an overview and implications for further research.  “At present, ultraviolet sensors are utilized in numerous fields ranging from various spectroscopy applications via biotechnical innovations to industrial process control. Despite of this, the performance of current UV sensors is surprisingly poor. Here, we break the theoretical one photon – one electron barrier and demonstrate a device with a certified external quantum efficiency (EQE) above 130% in UV range without external amplification. The record high performance is obtained using a nanostructured silicon photodiode with self-induced junction. We show that the high efficiency is based on effective utilization of multiple carrier generation by impact ionization taking place in the nanostructures. While the results can readily have a significant impact on the UV-sensor industry, the underlying technological concept can be applied to other semiconductor materials, thereby extending above unity response to longer wavelengths and offering new perspectives for improving efficiencies beyond the Shockley-Queisser limit.”

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NAWA’s Straight Line Electrode to More Power

Most battery breakthroughs are five years in the future, following the basic rules of scientific journals and Popular Science magazine.  The usual refrains are, “Further research is required,” and “Researchers expect commercial development within the next decade.”  Rather than wait for the future, NAWA Technologies claims the world’s fastest electrode today and production now.

Conventional batteries present an obstacle course while NAWA’s carbon nanotubes present a straight path

NAWA’a brochure explains their Vertically Aligned Carbon NanoTube (VACNT) architecture is “key to its next-generation energy storage.”   Think of a forest of carbon nanotubes through which current can flow.  In the jumble of usual battery materials, an ion would have to clamber over boulder-like obstructions and possibly get hung up in the random intersections of conductive material.  The VACNT architecture allows ionic flow as though they are cruising down a well-maintained interstate freeway.

Constructed from carbon and graphene, VACNTs hold the promise of a “quantum leap” in battery performance.  NAWATechnologies foresees “revolutionary improvements in power, energy, lifecycle and charging time.”  Their Ultra Fast Carbon Electrode contributes to better performance and “significant cost savings.”  NAWA points out that, “Electrodes account for almost 25 per cent of the cost of a battery while today’s global lithium-ion battery market is worth in excess of $35 billion.” (Avicenne report 2019)

A Balancing Act

Demonstrating an application for their ultracapacitor and battery development NAWA developed a Racer Motorcycle which splits power and energy demands between a tenth of a kilowatt-hour ultracapacitor pack and a nine kilowatt-hour lithium battery pack. This combination powers 100 metric horsepower (98.632 mechanical horsepower) motor that propels the 150 kilogram (330 pound) cycle.

Because the capacitors represent one-ninetieth of the total energy available, they make up for that by discharging quickly to give sudden power boosts and pull in energy from braking to regenerate their charge.  Their ability to charge and discharge quickly takes that burden off the battery pack, which can store energy for long-term cruising but is not as good at producing high-power bursts.  Such bursts, also called high C rates of discharge, heat things up and shorten battery life. They also lead to thermal runaways and resulting battery fires.  The ultracap/battery combination can alleviate those issues.

Short- and Long-term Outlooks

NAWA’s brochure provides another short-term possibility, combining their Ultra Fast Carbon Batteries with hydrogen fuel cells.  “When combined with existing lithium-ion batteries – which boast greater energy density – or hydrogen fuel cells – that are not capable of harvesting energy at all – they can provide more power and extend a product’s lifetime. In the long term, the possibilities offered by NAWATechnologies’ Ultra Fast Carbon Battery could enable the company to develop hybrid ultracapacitor cells. With energy densities approaching those of lead acid batteries but with much faster charging times, these cells would lower overall battery pack weight and extend service life, ideal for use in automotive, wider mobility and renewable energy sectors.”  Note that the ultracapacitors have energy per weight performance only approximating that of lead-acid batteries – disappointing but offset by other advantages.

NAWA products have gained recognition by the Solar Impulse Foundation, hinting at use in aircraft, perhaps

NAWA sees a rosier future for their UFCB.  “In the long term, the possibilities offered by NAWATechnologies’ Ultra Fast Carbon Battery could enable the company to develop hybrid ultracapacitor cells. With energy densities approaching those of lead acid batteries but with much faster charging times, these cells would lower overall battery pack weight and extend service life, ideal for use in automotive, wider mobility and renewable energy sectors.”

As noted in their video, NAWA sees potential structural battery applications in transportation – including aircraft.  This again may be a way to lessen the less than stellar energy density.  It will be fascinating to see where this relatively young company goes.

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MissionGO Drones Make Medical Deliveries

The Nevada desert near Las Vegas formed a dramatic backdrop for the delivery of a kidney and corneas to a simulated emergency surgery site this last week.  MissionGO’s rotary-wing drone delivered the kidney on one flight and the corneas on another – just to clarify.

This cooperative effort among Mission GO’s technology and the Nevada Donor Network’s (an organ procurement organization, or OPO) fearless supporters proved a huge success.  The Network’s numbers provide the impetus for this project.  According to their web site 650 Nevadans and 110,099 Americans await transplants, ranging from hearts to pancreases.  1,447,906 potential donors are signed up in Nevada alone – a heartening circumstance and disheartening pun.

MissionGO President  Anthony Pucciarella, explained, “These flights are an exciting step forward – the research conducted during last week’s test flights are another data point to illustrate that unmanned aircraft are a reliable mode of transportation for life-saving cargo, and that MissionGO’s UAS are safe for both the payload and people on the ground – even at greater distances.  We are grateful to be testing our technology with our partners at the Nevada Donor Network and look forward to what we can achieve together with more research like this.”

MissionGO Praxis drone carrying organs over Nevada desert

Deniz Yilmaz, reporting for Interesting Engineering.com, noted the tests were successfully completed on September 17.  She reports that the first flight from Southern Hills Hospital and Medical Center to the Dignity Health-St. Rose Dominican, San Martín Campus carried research corneas.  The second carried a “research kidney”from an airport to a small town in the Las Vegas desert.  MissionGO claims it is the longest organ delivery flight in an unmanned aircraft.

Currently, the majority of organs donated in Las Vegas are sent to recipients in other states because transplant programs locally are limited.  It’s unfortunate that unpiloted aerial vehicles will probably not solve the lack of such programs, but the quick transportation of organs and tissue may open links to hospitals and clinics in the area that do perform such transplants.  The fact that the second flight was the longest such mission for a UAV-delivered transplant payload so far helps open that possibility.  This would also apply to other regions here and abroad, where other UAVs are delivering medical supplies daily.

We reported here on an earlier, shorter flight delivering a kidney to a Baltimore hospital, where it was used in a successful transplant operation.  That mission was carried out by between two hospitals and avoided the usual downtown traffic impediments.

The second flight delivered a research kidney from the Searchlight Airport (1L3) to a location outside of the town of Cal-Nev-Ari, marking the longest organ delivery flight in UAS history. This flight surpassed the distance of a historic flight in April 2019 when MissionGO team members Anthony Pucciarella and Ryan Henderson, in their roles at the University of Maryland UAS Test Site and in partnership with the University of Maryland Medical Center, delivered the first kidney by UAS that was then successfully transplanted into a patient.  Photo: MissionGO

According to MissionGO, opportunities abound with this new technology.  “The second flight test underlined an exciting possibility for the future of organ transportation within the Las Vegas region specifically. The use of unmanned aircraft in a multimodal transportation chain will reduce the time between organ donation and transplantation, reduce the carbon footprint by using electric aircraft, and potentially expand organ procurement efficiency, saving more lives. The Nevada aviation research is the beginning of a series of medical and aviation research flights with OPOs in other regions.”

MissionGO explained the tests, “Emphasized the feasibility of a touchless solution, reducing the number of handoffs by transporting the human organ directly between hospitals through the air, in lieu of ground-based couriers.

Loading the drone at   Airport.  MissionGO conducts test flights of the unmanned aerial system (UAS) in the Nevada desert. The tests aim to prove the viability of unmanned aircraft in the organ transplantation chain, Source: MissionGO

Joe Ferreira, CEO and President of Nevada Donor Network, was happy with the tests’ outcomes.  “The success of last week’s tests launches us into the future of organ transportation and will enable us to be even more successful in the coming years. The work we’re doing now to maximize the gift of life and health can only be amplified with the services that MissionGO demonstrated. The future of organ donation and transplantation will be defined by innovation.”

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ZEROe on the Rise at Airbus

ZEROe

Airbus, taking a new direction, announced that they are, “Exploring game-changing concept aircraft – known as ZEROe – powered by hydrogen, a disruptive zero-emission technology with the potential to reduce aircraft emissions by up to 50%.”

Two seem to be evolutionary, employing a different fuel and powertrain within fairly conventional airframes.  The third, a blended-wing body (BWB) structure, emulates Boeing’s and NASA’s BWB.  All three, though, employ hydrogen to meet the planet’s need to reduce or eliminate carbon dioxide and other emissions.  All three use hydrogen hybrid power systems.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in a 2019 report looked at the different electric and hybrid systems available.  The organization included a factor examined before in this blog.  “The climate benefits of electric aviation may come not only from its reduced CO2 emissions, but also from the elimination of contrails – the long, thin clouds that form in the wake of jet engines2. Although no scientific consensus exists on the radiative forcing effect of contrails, some studies point out that they may have further warming impacts on the global climate.”

To counter the effects of CO2 emissions and radiative forcing, Airbus employs a different type of hybridization in their ZEROe craft. “This means they are powered by modified gas turbine engines that burn liquid hydrogen as fuel. At the same time, they also use hydrogen fuel cells to create electrical power that complements the gas turbine, resulting in a highly efficient hybrid-electric propulsion system.  However, each option has a slightly different approach to integrating the liquid hydrogen storage and distribution system.”

By 2035

Airbus promises to bring the first of these aircraft to flight by 2035, noting a sense of déjà vu for two of the designs.  The jet airliner sporting higher-aspect ratio wings than current designs, still would hardly stand out on the ramp.  Likewise, the turboprop appears similar enough to current regional commuters to elicit notice.  The BWB will certainly draw eyes and comments.  All three will employ hydrogen as a fuel, but the difference should be transparent to passengers.

Glenn Llewellyn, Airbus Vice President for Zero-Emission Aircraft explains, “As recently as five years ago, hydrogen propulsion wasn’t even on our radar as a viable emission-reduction technology pathway. But convincing data from other transport industries quickly changed all that. Today, we’re excited by the incredible potential hydrogen offers aviation in terms of disruptive emissions reduction.”  Airbus’ calculations show that up to 50 percent of aviation’s CO2 emissions can be eliminated by the use of H2 as a fuel.

All the Airbus craft will use a hydrogen-hybrid power system. According to Airbus, “This means they are powered by modified gas turbine engines that burn liquid hydrogen as fuel. At the same time, they also use hydrogen fuel cells to create electrical power that complements the gas turbine, resulting in a highly efficient hybrid-electric propulsion system.”  Each aircraft, though, will have a different approach which optimizes its use of the hybrid system.

Three New Designs

Discover the three zero-emission concept aircraft known as ZEROe in this infographic. These turbofan, turboprop, and blended-wing-body configurations are all hydrogen hybrid aircraft

Turboprop: Two hybrid-hydrogen turboprop engines burn hydrogen to provide thrust through eight-bladed propellers. The liquid hydrogen storage and distribution system are located behind the rear pressure bulkhead.  The turbofan design has a design range of 1,000+ nautical miles (1,150 statute miles) and will carry 100 passengers.

Turbofan:  This concept can carry 120-200 passengers over a range of 2,000+ nautical miles (2300 statute miles), “capable of operating transcontinentally and powered by a modified gas-turbine engine running on hydrogen, rather than jet fuel, through combustion. The liquid hydrogen will be stored and distributed via tanks located behind the rear pressure bulkhead.”

Blended-Wing Body (BWB): This configuration features an exceptionally wide interior, thereby opening up multiple options for hydrogen storage and distribution. In this ZEROe example, the liquid hydrogen storage tanks are stored underneath the wings. Like the turbofan aircraft, two hybrid hydrogen turbofan engines provide thrust.

New Challenges

Jean-Brice Dumont, Airbus Executive Vice President of Engineering explains, “Hydrogen has a different volumetric energy density than jet fuel, so we have to study other storage options and aircraft architectures than existing ones. This means the visual appearance of our future zero-emission aircraft will change. These three configurations provide us with some exciting options for further exploration.”

Guillaume Faury, Chief Executive Officer for Manufacturing, adds, “These concepts will help us explore and mature the design and layout of the world’s first climate-neutral, zero-emission commercial aircraft, which we aim to put into service by 2035. The transition to hydrogen, as the primary power source for these concept planes, will require decisive action from the entire aviation ecosystem. Together with the support from government and industrial partners we can rise up to this challenge to scale-up renewable energy and hydrogen for the sustainable future of the aviation industry.”

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A Dash of Hydrogen

Getting the Parts Free, Charged for Refills

What if future flight had a simple “return the old fuel container and get a new one” business model?  Paul Eremenko, founder of California startup Universal Hydrogen, wants to try it out in a Dash 8 airliner equipped with two 2-megawatt motors supplied by MagniX.

Poor analogy perhaps, but in his boyhood, your editor had a camera that was sold at the store complete with a roll of film already inside.  All you had to do when you took all your pictures was send it by mail, with a check or money order, and a week later, you got the reloaded camera back with the prints and negatives of your pictures.  This klunky, pre-digital plan carried over from Kodak’s version 100 years before.

Today, with digital photography having supplanted those earlier, more tedious processes, we save on postage and wasted photos. Let’s face it – we all like rapid rewards and instant gratification.  Charging your electric airplane takes hours and some of us just can’t wait around.

Loading cycle would form closed loop with H2 made locally if possible

Universal Hydrogen will supply hydrogen fuel modules directly from their production facilities to the aircraft.  Universal offers, “To cover all or part of the conversion kit costs for the new propulsion system in return for long-term contracts to supply the hydrogen.”  This should encourage “early adoption” and place new power systems in existing craft – speeding up the usage of H2 while manufacturers develop new designs more optimal for its use.

True Believers

Eremenko, his fellow Universal founders and partner Roei Ganzarski, CEO of magniX are true believers – in the best sense of the term – in the future of electric aviation.  MagniX runs its electric motors from batteries, as on its DeHavilland Beaver and Cessna Caravan conversions. Universal plans on running two of the largest MagniX motors to date on its DeHavilland Canada Dash 8 conversion.  The Dash 8 is officially a DHC8-Q300, and is now manufactured by Bombadier as a Q8.  The same system can be applied to the Avions Transport Régional ATR 42 family.

The kit proposed by the partnership will use twin two-megawatt motors – the largest for MagniX and possibly all of electric aviation.  Although the motor is a more powerful version of the MagniX line, the fuel system will be different.  Eremenko plans to change the way hydrogen is delivered to the aircraft though packaging the element in modular form.

According to AIN Online, “Universal Hydrogen’s response has been to treat the fuel as dry freight and find a safe, efficient way to maintain supply to airlines. Its modules, which measure about seven feet long and three feet in diameter, can carry the hydrogen in liquid or compressed gas form to be loaded into the back of the aircraft via standard cargo loading equipment or a forklift.”  Modules would be delivered directly from H2 manufacturing plants, presumably close at hand.

If filled with water, each module would hold about 208 gallons.  They can be stacked in racks so that 54 would fit inside a standard freight shipping container.

An additional partnership with Plug Power, a fuel cell creator, links the fuel and the motors.  “The carbon-free propulsion system will incorporate a lightweight Plug Power ProGen-based hydrogen fuel cell stack designed for aerospace applications and Universal Hydrogen’s modular hydrogen distribution and fuel cell delivery system.”

Eremenko further explained his push to bypass the conventional infrastructure. “There is fundamentally an incrementalist mindset in the incumbents.  Hydrogen is a fairly drastic step for the industry. I think it’s a necessary step, given the industry has no other way to meet the goals of the Paris agreement.’’

With increasing amounts of “green” hydrogen being produced and prices dropping, the fuel may be a way to reduce or eliminate the 2.5 to 5 percent of greenhouse gases produced by aviation.  This figure is bound to climb as flights resume and passenger numbers grow.  Clean H2 fuel would reduce the amount of “flight shaming” currently fashionable.

Paul Eremenko has hopes for his idea’s early series production. “Clearly there is still a lot to be done in terms of reducing emissions from commercial aviation, and the future of the industry lies in hydrogen-based, carbon-free energy.”

“Universal Hydrogen, through its hydrogen transport and distribution infrastructure solution, is on a path to change the way regional flight is achieved and transform it from being powered by decades-old, expensive, polluting technology to low-cost clean solutions,” says Roei Ganzarski, CEO of magniX. “Together, we will bring scalable, proven technology to the next level of electric aviation.”

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An Historic Hydrogen Outing

While Airbus and MagniX promote the near- and not-so-near virtues of hydrogen-powered flight, ZeroAvia has demonstrated such flight with the largest H2-powered aircraft so far.  Their Cranfield, England-based Piper Malibu flew on H2 power for the first time September 24 on an eight-minute circuit.  The blue Malibu reached 1,000 feet and a top speed of 100 knots true air speed.

Quick to capitalize on the successful mission, , ZeroAvia founder and CEO Val Miftakhov held a press conference the next day.  In it, he explained his team,“has had discussions with seven aircraft manufacturers about possible retrofit and new-build applications for the propulsion system. He said the company has signed letters of intent with 10 airlines that have expressed an interest in the program based on presentations made to around 30 different prospective operators.”

Earlier flights in Hollister, California and Cranfield were battery powered “to evaluate different elements of the powertrain.”   Unspecified modifications helped prepare the craft for the short hydrogen flight.

With only a few months left in the year, ZeroAvia has announced plans to make a flight of up to 300 nautical miles (345 statute miles) by the end of 2020.  The craft, with “full propulsion system” will fly from the Island of Orkney, which has a hydrogen production plant, to the UK mainland.

ZeroAvia intends to do even more and quickly, intending to obtain a type certificate by the end of 2023 to retrofit a 10- to 20-seat aircraft.  The plane, along the lines of a Cessna Caravan, their new SkyCourier, a DeHavilland Twin Otter or Dornier 228, would carry enough hydrogen to go 500 nm (575 statute miles).

Miftakhov looks ahead to his systems powering a 50- to 100-seat aircraft in commercial service by 2030,  H2 could be flying 200 passengers up to 3,000 nm (3,452 statute miles) by 2040.  Similar to plans by MagniX, DeHavilland Dash 8s and ATR42s are potential interim airframes for conversion to H2 power.

Working with the UK Civil Aviation Authority, ZeroAvia will increase the Malibu’s hydrogen storage capacity and increase the motor’s power from 230 kW (308 hp) to 260 kW (349 hp).  This will probably keep Gabriel DeVault, the company’s head of drivetrain development, busy for the next few months.

Tricky Politics Ahead

ZeroAvia won a September 2019 award of £2.7 million ($3.4 million) from the UK government through its Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) under its HyFlyer project.  This is an early step in the government’s plan to achieve zero carbon air transportation by 2050. The successful Malibu flight was witnessed by UK business and industry minister Nahdim Zahawi and aviation minister Robert Courts.  Their comments can be found in ZeroAvia’s press release for the event.

Because the UK is exiting the European Union, certain aspects of aircraft certification may become a bit jumbled in the process.  “Miftakhov acknowledged that it is still uncertain how a UK-based company will be able to navigate the EASA (European Union Aviation Safety Agency) certification process at the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31, 2020.”  Existing rules of reciprocity among Union nations may continue to apply to a former member country, but nothing seems to be engraved just yet.

Support from Government and Industry Partners

Several government and industry partners provide support for ZeroAvia and its HyFlyer program.  Two well-established operations, the European Marine Energy Center (EMEC) and fuel-cell developer Intelligent Energy, provide hydrogen and a Hydrogen Airport Refueling Ecosystem at Cranfield.  This ground-based setup will demonstrate its capabilities while the Malibu demonstrates H2’s capabilities in the air.

When the hydrogen-fueled flight from Orkney succeeds, true cross-country flight in emissions-free aircraft will promote a new perspective for green aviation.  Beyond that, expansion of a green hydrogen infrastructure will benefit all of transportation.

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End the Year on a Volocopter Note

Volocopter has an exciting way to end 2020, leaving the old year with a ticket for your future flight in a VoloCity VC 2-1 aircraft (the “Aircraft”).  Fine print, spelled out in the eight-page General Terms & Conditions for the Volocopter World Premiere Ticket Program, might cause the hesitant to pause. The more adventurous among us will start planning an overseas trip two or three years from now.

Here’s the Deal

“Berlin, 16 September 2020 — At Greentech Festival in Berlin today, Volocopter, the pioneer of Urban Air Mobility (UAM), announced that the world’s first public sale for electrical air taxi flight reservations has started. Effective immediately, Volocopter fans world-wide can reserve their tickets online and be amongst the very first to take this new form of mobility. The VoloFirst costs €300 ($351.25) and can be reserved with a 10% ($35.12) deposit.”  There are only 1000 presale reservations available for a limited time, and as of this morning, only 313 left.  We don’t think the supply will hold out to the December 31 deadline with 687 reserved in the first six days.

The Fine Print

One will have to take a trip to experience the Volocopter trip, with rides offered in Europe and Asia only at this time, and at probably limited locations.  These rides will only take place after Volocopter attains certification in the host countries.  That’s why lucky winners will have to cool their Jetson jets for a few years.

Participants will probably fly from a purpose-built Voloport in a host city

The announcement follows Volocopter’s successful demonstration flights in Stuttgart, at Helsinki’s international airport, and over Singapore’s Marina Bay. Volocopter’s CEO Florian Reuter explains, “Based on our public test flights and regulatory achievement record, we have paved the way to make electric flight in cities common in just a few years. With the start of reservations, we now invite our supporters and innovators around the world to join us and be amongst the first to experience this new and exciting form of mobility.” Reservations for the first VoloCity flights are available world-wide on the Volocopter Reservation Platform.

What You’ll Get

  • A flight with a duration of approx. 15 minutes (approx.) scheduled within the first 12 months after commercial launch.
  • A video of the passenger’s flight.
  • A limited edition, personalized certificate included in reservation.

Volocopter’s Chief Commercial Officer Christian Bauer adds, “While the final certification for air taxis is still pending, we do have a detailed realistic timeline to launch commercial VoloCity flights in the next 2-3 years. Moreover, those who reserve now can receive the latest updates about our progress and the commercial launch plan.”

Volocopter has made enormous progress in only nine years, having demonstrated safe flight in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.  Its work toward certification and ticketed flights has elicited immediate public interest and a willingness to join in a greener future.

Thanks to Helena Treeck at Volocopter for her timely updates.

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Uwe Beger, competition director for a new form of sailplane contest, wrote this in response to our entry on the Pipistrel Velis’ multiple records flying from Switzerland to the North Sea.  “From August 29th to September 5th 2020 fifteen pilots from 6 different nations flew a cross country flying contest (E2 Glide), where the usage of electric engines (Front Electric Sustainers as well as Retractable Electric Engines) was allowed within some contingent of 2 up to 2.5 kWh per flight. Altogether the participants managed to fly a distance of nearly 10,000km (6,214 miles) with the use of 150 kWh of energy in sum.”  That’s about 41.4 miles per kilowatt hour.

Last year’s Eglide competition in Pavullo, Italy

“Not that bad compared to the world records of the Pipistrel Velis Electro ;-)”  Granted that sailplanes are highly optimized vehicles that generate as little drag as anything flying – other than birds, perhaps.  Each pilot in the E2 Glide gathering would have used an average of 10 kilowatt-hours of stored energy.  By comparison, a dishwasher uses about 1.5 kWh per load, so each pilot used less electricity than seven dishwasher loads for the week.  At an average cost per kWh in Europe of 21.1 cents, flying that week, other than the usual tow costs, would have consumed $2.11 in electricity.  Electricity for the whole event would have cost $31.65.

Gliding without auxiliary power can lead to unplanned loss of lift, outlandings

E2 Glide is a new application of something done with sailplanes that can self launch or sustain flight with electric motors.  Organizers explain, “New technology requires new ways of thinking. Electric drives in gliding multiply possible competitive variants. The aim of the E2GLIDE format is to take up the experience gained from the 1st eglide contest 2019 in Pavullo, Italy in a structured manner and to combine it with other ideas. The use of defined engine contingents during the competition flight enables increasing independence from the weather and high-profile racing events.”  This year’s contest was held in the Erzgebirge region of Germany – once a coal-mining area.  There’s no coal-rolling in this competition, though.

With auxiliary electric power, all airplanes return home at the end of a flight

Pilots fly two-hour competitions, and have a maximum energy quota of two kilowatt-hours they can use on each challenge.  Airplanes can use front electric sustainers (FES) or retractable electric motors.

Czech HPH sailplane with FES extending its time in the air. Aircraft can also be purchased with a retractable jet engine.  This is type of craft flown by Stefan Langer in videos

Through two well-done videos, we follow the adventures of Stefan Langer, flying an HPH Shark 304S, powered by an FES system.  It serves as a sustainer, enabling Stefan to stay in the air despite gray days and prevents those inconvenient outlandings.

Contest organizers reflect on “the dream of emission-free flying, praising gliding’s advancement of aerodynamics.  Now, with electric power, “The hybridization of aerodynamically favorable gliders with electric motors offers drive systems ready for series production, which can operate emission-free and also much more weather-independent than typical gliders.”

Considering the Lange self-launching sailplanes have been around a decade, along with the 13.5 meter span Silent motorglider from Italy, it’s time to incorporate the growing number of electric machines into a new variation on a century-old sport.

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