Pipistrel’s Panthera Pounces

Aero, in Friedrichshafen, Germany gets a little more electric every year, with one of this year’s highlights being Jean-Luc Soullier’s flight in his Colomban MC-30 E, setting records for speed and altitude in its class.

Another highlight, for a very different class of aircraft, was the unveiling of the Pipistrel Panthera – made even more exciting by the company’s decision to create three powerplant options for the airplane – an internal combustion IO-390 powered speedster, a hybrid engine/motor cruiser, and a battery powered electric version that essentially gives up performance for economy.  The airplane was shown only in large model form at the company’s announcement, but Pipistrel has provided full performance data, an attractive brochure (see the site above), and a full price list, the last through their American distributor. 

The laws of physics giveth and the laws of physics taketh away.  The traditional engine-powered Panthera gives the greatest performance, but uses the greatest amount of fuel.  The hybrid version is thriftier in that regard, something that may be more desirable in the near future than ultimate performance, and the electric version becomes a two-seater, making allowances for the weight of batteries required to power a 145 kilowatt (194 horsepower) motor.  In fact, all three versions are rated at 145 kW (although the horsepower figure for the straight IC version is 16 hp higher than the others), and it’s instructive to compare the differences in the three.

Powered by the Lycoming IO-390 engine, the base Panthera, according to Pipistrel, will cruise at 200 knots (230 miles per hour) “with a fuel consumption of only 10 gallons per hour instead of the usual 17 gallons of the competition….  Payload and range is never compromised – with four people aboard, Panthera will easily reach destinations more than [1,000 nautical miles] (1,150 statute miles) away!”

The 145 kW hybrid-electric powertrain is “supported by the state-of-the-art battery system and range-extender generator unit, which is a special in-house development for the Panthera.”  Pipistrel explains that the craft will have, “The ability of noiseless, pure-electric take-offs and landings… coupled with uncompromised range characteristics.”

“This version of Panthera with its pure-electric 145 kW powertrain is a treat for the high-tech enthusiasts and those to whom the environment matters. The goal is to demonstrate the ability of covering 400 km (215 NM –or 247.5 statute miles), quietly, efficiently, with absolutely zero emissions and for a fraction of [the] cost. The platform is open and ready to accept future generations of battery technologies, which will increase the operating range.  Electric flight is ready and Panthera Electro will hopefully shift the authorities to rightfully accept electric flight and enable clean, quiet and cheap flight.”

All versions of the Panthera have titanium-component landing gear, a spacious, air-conditioned cabin, recovery parachute, glass cockpit instrumentation, and a list of standard features that should satisfy most VFR/IFR flight requirements.

Given the same aerodynamics and gross weight for all three versions, the IO-390 model gives the best overall performance, greatest payload, and greatest range.  Necessary compromises for the increased empty weights of the hybrid and electric versions mean carrying fewer passengers and having lower ranges and speeds.  The IO-390 allows a 1,145 pound payload (but only 760 pounds with full fuel), the hybrid system 595 pounds, and the fully-electric aircraft 440 pounds, essentially making it a two-seater (or three if the three are as svelte as the airplane).  All three versions boast reasonable short-field performance, all being able to clear a 50-foot barrier in 2,300 feet or less on takeoff, and the same barrier in 1,900 feet on landing.

A potential buyer can make an initial deposit of 30,000 Euros ($43,200) to gain a delivery slot, and the experimental base kit airplane with the Lycoming IO-390 engine) costs 295,000 Euros ($424,800), including “factory kit assistance.”  Add 15,000 Euros for the Premium experimental kit, or 55,000 Euros for a factory-built, IFR-certified aircraft.  The hybrid and electric versions seem to be offered as experimental kits (with factory help), with the hybrid costing 355,000 Euros ($511,200), and the electric version 385,000 Euros ($554,400).

Because of Pipistrel’s demonstrated ability to deliver high-performance, economical smaller craft, the airplane comes with a good set of credentials.  It will be interesting to see what level of interest this high-performance, high-value airplane will elicit.

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