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Electric Airplane Ready For Production

Unknown Lamer posted about 2 years ago | from the nuclear-powered-planes-out-next-month dept.

Transportation 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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If you're going to crash (5, Funny)

Ukab the Great (87152) | about 2 years ago | (#39867115)

Do you have to divert power from life support?

Re:If you're going to crash (2)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | about 2 years ago | (#39867307)

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:If you're going to crash (1, Informative)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 2 years ago | (#39867373)

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:If you're going to crash (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39867449)

to the manoeuvring thrusters

I manoeuvred yo mama into my bed and gave her a good thrusting. With my penis.

And ... niggers! After all they invented yo mama jokes. Give credit where its due and all that.

Re:If you're going to crash (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39868257)

With my penis.

Good thing you explained that one. I don't think anyone would have got it without that tip.

Re:If you're going to crash (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39868031)

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).

Re:If you're going to crash (3, Funny)

tnk1 (899206) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Solar (4, Interesting)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 2 years ago | (#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 (5, Insightful)

jaymemaurice (2024752) | about 2 years ago | (#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 (5, Funny)

Ol Biscuitbarrel (1859702) | about 2 years ago | (#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

Re:Solar (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39867515)

I say the same thing!! Why not use the ever-present wind resistance as an advantage instaead of trying to "overcome" it?!? Probably b/c if they made cars TOO efficient there wouldn't be enough oil revenue. then chaos ensues.

Re:Solar (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about 2 years ago | (#39867517)

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%.

Re:Solar (2)

Scarred Intellect (1648867) | about 2 years ago | (#39867821)

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.

Re:Solar (1)

Ol Biscuitbarrel (1859702) | about 2 years ago | (#39867953)

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 stabbing at the button with the picture of an Extra Crispy Bucket. I mean, be real. /sarcasm again

Re:Solar (1, Informative)

na1led (1030470) | about 2 years ago | (#39867963)

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.

AC/DC (2)

DarthVain (724186) | about 2 years ago | (#39867907)

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.

Re:Solar (2)

captainpanic (1173915) | about 2 years ago | (#39867381)

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 just responding.

Re:Solar (1)

LifesABeach (234436) | about 2 years ago | (#39867689)

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?

Re:Solar (1)

Barsteward (969998) | about 2 years ago | (#39867803)

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

Re:Solar (1)

Culture20 (968837) | about 2 years ago | (#39868005)

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. ?

Re:Solar (1)

nschubach (922175) | about 2 years ago | (#39868181)

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.

Re:Solar (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39867277)

No. The motor at peak power is around 450 KW. While the electric motor is not always operating at full power, the amount of power you would get from solar panels is paltry. At best with solar panels mounted perpendicular to the sun flying at the equator at noon on the equinox with 100% efficiency you would get 1 KW/m^2. In reality your panels aren't perpendicular to the sun, the efficiency is not 100% and you are flying at a higher latitude and less efficient position. You might get 5% of that if you are lucky. And maybe this plane has 2 m^2, so you are adding 100W (0.02% of peak power). You have enough power to turn on the lights--except that it is day.

Re:Solar (3, Insightful)

isopropanol (1936936) | about 2 years ago | (#39867371)

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.

Re:Solar (1)

rwise2112 (648849) | about 2 years ago | (#39867881)

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]

Re:Solar (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39867891)

Manned aviation is terribly slow to accept new technology, but for good reasons. Just the time and expense required to certify is an impediment to change and most of the commercial companies are happy cranking out incremental improvements on their existing base products.

I put a Continental O200E into my Zenith CH750 and though a lot of people hailed it as some big improvement it certainly isn't. Yes it is a bit lighter and makes a bit more power, but only a bit. Owing to the constant fear of a 100LL ban it does handle auto gas with aplomb. But I know of a project that put a ~200HP 1.3L pump gas Suzuki Hayabusa engine into an unmanned plane, and that represents quite a jump in technology to me.

Re:Solar (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 2 years ago | (#39868109)

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 (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 2 years ago | (#39867423)

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 of just enough fancy structural composites to connect the solar cells to the propellers. Project name is "Helios" if you want the nice pictures.

I suspect that(as with cars) the (really quite substantial) energy demands of a conventional aircraft would swamp the amount of power you could wring out of a solar array that could be managed within the area, weight, and cost constraints.

Re:Solar (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about 2 years ago | (#39867527)

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

Re:Solar (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 2 years ago | (#39867695)

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.

Annuals (5, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Re:Annuals (1)

noh8rz3 (2593935) | about 2 years ago | (#39867259)

Very insightful, thank you. I'm sure that the plug in hybrid plane has other advantages, but it's easiest to sell to the general public on the green aspects. If its really important to you to be green you ca burn your plane on biofuel. There might be some cost differential, but as you say, fuel costs are a tiny component of tco.

Re:Annuals (2)

Joce640k (829181) | about 2 years ago | (#39867547)

I'm sure that the plug in hybrid plane has other advantages.

It will be very quiet...most light aircraft need you to shout in to microphones to talk to the guy sat next to you so that might be nice.

Re:Annuals (2)

CubicleView (910143) | about 2 years ago | (#39867417)

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’t likely your motivation. Plus I imagine this $20 for 200 miles figure doesn’t factor in battery replacement costs etc.

Re:Annuals (1)

Richard_at_work (517087) | about 2 years ago | (#39867535)

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?

Re:Annuals (1)

LifesABeach (234436) | about 2 years ago | (#39867775)

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.

Re:Annuals (1)

CubicleView (910143) | about 2 years ago | (#39867853)

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...

Re:Annuals (1)

Richard_at_work (517087) | about 2 years ago | (#39868019)

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.

Rich man's hobby (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39867465)

You may find the cheapest cost of owning an aircraft... is the fuel.

Maybe at current prices. The long term trend of fuel prices is up. A hybrid would be a great way to mitigate fuel price increases.

If you're sweating the cost of fuel, there is no way you can afford the other much larger costs of aircraft ownership.

That's why you rent. But even then at what, $100/per hour (Hobbs) today, GA flying is an expensive hobby and an expensive form of travel regardless. Also, the airlines themselves are quite concerned about fuel prices, so I don't think it's unreasonable to factor that in.

Who cares, annual inspections for a small plane, assuming no real problems are found, are like $1500 ... every year

So, it costs about 15 hours of flight time. If you're not flying that much then you shouldn't own a plane in the first place. If you are flying a lot where owning makes sense, then $1500 is chump change.

and hanger rental monthly nears the cost of renting a bachelor pad apartment (which makes sense, they're about the same size...)

Or you could just tie-down.

You're right though. Flying is a rich man's hobby - or someone who is spending a lot of their disposable income on flying.

Re:Annuals (5, Interesting)

Lumpy (12016) | about 2 years ago | (#39867603)

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.)

Re:Annuals (2)

operagost (62405) | about 2 years ago | (#39867877)

Monthly car inspections? I don't know of any US state that requires it more than once a year.

Re:Annuals (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39868413)

Must be in Maryland ;)

Re:Annuals (1)

colesw (951825) | about 2 years ago | (#39868069)

Just wondering where you live that you have monthly inspections on your car? Or are those voluntary inspections?

I'm not rich... Experimental is the way to go... (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#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:Annuals (1)

wvmarle (1070040) | about 2 years ago | (#39868119)

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.

Re:Annuals (1)

Jeremi (14640) | about 2 years ago | (#39868395)

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:Annuals (1, Informative)

RogueWarrior65 (678876) | about 2 years ago | (#39867729)

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 leaded gas issue is barely measurable compared to millions of cars spewing out lead in the exhaust which illustrates the extreme obsessive/compulsive behavior of the environmentalists. Separate issue, though.

As a matter of interest, Sikorsky has developed and electric helicopter. Apparently they use a Korean-made lithium pack with a 50S3P designation. That's 200 volts. Of course, they've only gotten about 15 minutes flight time so the project will sit on the shelf until battery technology catches up.

Re:Annuals (1)

wvmarle (1070040) | about 2 years ago | (#39868155)

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.

Need comparison with competitive aircraft (2)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | about 2 years ago | (#39867205)

$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.

Re:Need comparison with competitive aircraft (2)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 2 years ago | (#39867293)

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.

Re:Need comparison with competitive aircraft (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 2 years ago | (#39867303)

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.

Re:Need comparison with competitive aircraft (1)

uigrad_2000 (398500) | about 2 years ago | (#39868305)

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 4 seats are full.

I don't know of any other canards (planes with the funny 2 wings in the front) that can be bought commercially, until you get into the luxury areas. The closest I can find to a fair comparison would be a common homebuilt design, like the Cozy Mark IV [wikipedia.org] , which actually looks quite similar to the concept drawing. Looking quickly at trade-a-plane.com, I see a clean 1998 Cozy Mark IV for $50,000, and my guess is that is on the high end. Despite the name, a Cozy has pretty good power. I'd be shocked if this "green" plane could come close to competing.

Re:Need comparison with competitive aircraft (1)

Will.Woodhull (1038600) | about 2 years ago | (#39867317)

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.

One benefit planes have over cars (1)

neokushan (932374) | about 2 years ago | (#39867219)

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.

Re:One benefit planes have over cars (1)

jaymemaurice (2024752) | about 2 years ago | (#39867251)

Or better yet... how about a cargo ship... they at least don't need to stay in the air.

Re:One benefit planes have over cars (1)

PPH (736903) | about 2 years ago | (#39868209)

Sailboat. Engines are only needed for maneuvering into and out of harbors and docks. The batteries can be charged from a small genset also used for electrical loads or PV panels.

Re:One benefit planes have over cars (1)

Chrisq (894406) | about 2 years ago | (#39867289)

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:One benefit planes have over cars (1, Informative)

Richard_at_work (517087) | about 2 years ago | (#39867419)

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 the effect of still carrying all those batteries the entire distance of the journey - plus the effect of landing an aircraft that would still be at the Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW), which isn't great on the airframe (the Maximum Landing Weight is typically fairly lower than the MTOW, which is why aircraft in emergencies dump fuel or circle to burn off fuel).

In cars, the weight difference between a full fuel tank and an empty fuel tank is near enough negligible to be discounted, but in an aircraft its a real factor.

Re:One benefit planes have over cars (1)

es330td (964170) | about 2 years ago | (#39868159)

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 matters up in the Class A airspace, but down in the 7,000-10,000 foot altitudes I fly it simply doesn't matter enough.

Re:One benefit planes have over cars (1)

Richard_at_work (517087) | about 2 years ago | (#39868331)

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 payload over the same distance).

Reasonable price? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 2 years ago | (#39867237)

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 (4, Informative)

LWATCDR (28044) | about 2 years ago | (#39867257)

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.

Re:Ahh No it isn't (1)

Chrisq (894406) | about 2 years ago | (#39867331)

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,

Bad comparison; (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | about 2 years ago | (#39867683)

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, production aircraft.

Gliders work in certain areas under specific conditions while the aircraft in the article is supposed to work anywhere an time. A glider is as different from this aircraft as a World Solar Challenge vehicle is different from the average passenger sedan.

Re:Ahh No it isn't (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39867333)

So it's like the usual Space Nutter tripe, except closer to the ground? It's "put out a render, wait for gullible investors, quietly disappear in a few years"? They really shouldn't use terms like "carbon fiber", that's so 1960s. Carbon fiber is passé, everything is made from it now. They should have said they're going to 3D print the plane for extra geek-jizz and investor delusion power. And for the coup de grace, they should have said it will be manufactured in orbit from asteroid material.

The Nutter jizz explosion would be like Krakatoa.

Re:Ahh No it isn't (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39867447)

And now, prepare for the Nutter -1 mod.

Re:Ahh No it isn't (1)

wvmarle (1070040) | about 2 years ago | (#39867629)

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 engine of similar size. The batteries supply the power boosts needed to take off, the petrol engine can do more than needed to keep in the air. The additional 4-5 hours on petrol is then also very reasonable.

But can such a small engine keep that plane cruising at a speed higher than the four-seater Cessna 182 (I take that one as it's been mentioned here more)? It seems plausible again.

That Cessna has an 8.874 cc engine, producing 230-350 hp depending on the version (source: Wikipedia). Half the 600 hp this plane's electrical engine can do, at peak. Googling for the power output of a typical 1500 cc car engine gives me numbers of around 100-120 hp, so 1/3-1/2 of the Cessna engine. That sounds very reasonable: peak power you only need for take-off only. For cruising at altitude you need far less. And from the artists impression it looks a lot more streamlined than the Cessna so should need less power to maintain speed.

Whether the plane will ever see the light of day, that's a totally different matter. But from the face of it, the power specs are really plausible, suggesting it could be made.

Re:Ahh No it isn't (1)

wvmarle (1070040) | about 2 years ago | (#39867681)

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.

Re:Ahh No it isn't (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39867965)

Hey! The headline says "Ready for production"! Hyperbole and delusions about technology? In MY Slashdot? Say it ain't so!

Re:Ahh No it isn't (1)

uigrad_2000 (398500) | about 2 years ago | (#39868421)

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 a Cessna's cost is for insurance for the builder), but you have years of waiting for the FAA to approve any new designs on parts.

If you really want to get into aviation, a home-built is still the best way. Finding one light enough to qualify as an LSA, and learn on that. Then, if you are filthy rich, consider getting a 4-seater that has power.

Fossil Fuel pollution displacement. (1, Insightful)

nickberry (1226494) | about 2 years ago | (#39867315)

So, you want to fly a plane that is green, and you want to power it from electricity?! WTF is wrong with people, burning one fossil fuel instead of another is not green.... The majority of America and the world's electricity comes from the burning of fossil fuels, the difference is the energy comes across miles of wire instead of the combustion engines we currently use. Electric vehicles are not more green than combustion engines, the pollution is just offset to a different location instead of your tailpipe...

Re:Fossil Fuel pollution displacement. (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 2 years ago | (#39867425)

Power plants are generally more efficient than combustion engines, so it is relatively more green - just means its not from renewable green power. As new designs get built and more of the grid power comes from nuke/solar/wind/hydro that becomes even more the case.

Re:Fossil Fuel pollution displacement. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39867505)

Efficiency losses in electrical generation, transmission, step down transformers, step down transformers to low voltage for charging, battery charging/discharging losses and electric motors efficiency losses... All from burning coal. If they wanted to minimize the pollution involved, (as well as the heavy/rare earth metals and toxic byproducts of batteries)

Clearly - they need to build a Coal burning Plane. That would be greener.

Re:Fossil Fuel pollution displacement. (1)

Richard_at_work (517087) | about 2 years ago | (#39867561)

Its easier to sequester the output from one powerstation than it is from a thousand homes or vehicles - running vehicles off of energy produced centrally can certainly be cleaner than running their own internal combustion engines.

Re:Fossil Fuel pollution displacement. (1)

vipw (228) | about 2 years ago | (#39868429)

Then why not power it with hydro or nuclear power? It's a possibility for many people, maybe not for you.

And for an airplane it's pointless, but for a car it's very good to not pollute out of the tailpipe. Combustion byproducts are bad for human health, so it's good to not expel them in the middle of urban areas where many people breathe.

Cheap alternative (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39867321)

With an auto fuel STC [autofuelstc.com] (Supplemental Type Certificate) it is legal to burn non-ethanol gasoline in aircraft. This can cost up to $3000 to get performed in a used plane that is certified for the modifications required (if any), but the plane and the conversion could cost you under $30,000. $470,000 buys a *lot* of fuel. Vapor lock [wikipedia.org] is what you're trying to avoid by getting this fuel system modification.

Solar (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39867525)

Please tell me this thing will have solar panels on the roof/ wings, so it can suck up sunlight - they should be more effective up there, since there is less atmosphere/ cloud between a flying plane and the sun than at ground level.

I know there's no way that it could carry enough panels to run on solar power exclusively, but picking up a little bit of free energy in-flight should be a no-brainer, surely.

Also, do electric planes have an equivalent to regenerative braking? Regenerative falling?

Cost (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39867761)

"but perhaps a little inconsequential when the plane itself is expected to cost around $500,000. "

That is pretty much par the course for a new plane of that size. The Cirrus SR22 cost around $600k new same for the Cessna 400. Even a Cessna skyhawk would set you back into the $300ks. Planes are just expensive new.

Some reality checks (4, Informative)

million_monkeys (2480792) | about 2 years ago | (#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

Would it be better at higher elevation? (1)

damn_registrars (1103043) | about 2 years ago | (#39867851)

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?

Re:Would it be better at higher elevation? (1)

wvmarle (1070040) | about 2 years ago | (#39868291)

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 engine to run: steadily humming away running at its optimal pace, charging the battery pack that in turn powers the prop.

Indeed at lower air pressure a petrol engine has a problem. But couldn't you design your petrol engine to expect lower air pressures (again mostly running at cruise altitude) or add an air compressor in the intake to compensate?

Electric engines are quiet (1)

Manfre (631065) | about 2 years ago | (#39867875)

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.

Key information missing (1)

Jawnn (445279) | about 2 years ago | (#39868185)

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?

Hmm , batteries provide 600hp ? Really? (1)

Viol8 (599362) | about 2 years ago | (#39868229)

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!

Seems crazy to me (2)

bobbied (2522392) | about 2 years ago | (#39868239)

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 fuel and 4 adults with no bags. My flight instructor was known to say "There is nothing more worthless than the runway behind you, the altitude above you, and the fuel you left in the truck" so when going long distances it's safer to put as much fuel in the tanks as you can, stay as high as you can, and always start and land as close to the end of the runway as possible..

In the case of this aircraft, 900 lbs of batteries means that they have traded 150 Gal of fuel or 4 adults, or a huge pile of baggage for batteries. Unless they can save nearly all that weight in their removal of the piston engine, useful load is going to be a HUGE problem. Aircraft engines in the horsepower range they are describing don't weigh anywhere near 900 lbs so I don't think they are going to get enough weight savings to make this work. This tells me that they are unlikely to have 4 seats worth of working payload and there will be no way to leave anything but 23 gal of fuel behind.

Additionally, their claim about leaded AvGas being a huge problem is untrue. Many aircraft engines can be and are legally and safely operated on the same 87 octane unleaded fuel you put in your car. Many aircraft are operated on either 110 octane Low Lead AvGas or 87 octane unleaded. However this is more due to the cost and availability of 110 LL and not environmental concerns.

Finally, the yearly inspection requirement will not go away with an electric powered aircraft. I find it hard to come up with a way that this yearly inspection is going to be any cheaper just because the aircraft has an electric motor. The airframe will still require inspections and I'm sure the FAA will have a list of things you must look at for the electric motor and battery systems. I'm also sure that these things will include stuff that you simply cannot test using a computer, but must actually LOOK at like we do now.

This is an interesting idea, but I am sure they are crazy if they think they can engineer an aircraft that will meet the advance billing. There is little hope of this idea being practically possible even in a modern carbon fiber airframe. They are not likely to be able to produce an aircraft that has a useful payload when compared to gas powered models. I'm pretty sure that their 500K price tag will not be possible on a carbon fiber airframe, unless they intend to loose money on these things. My guess is that this whole thing is an attempt to attract investors who don't know any better and who want to invest in something "green" and who will be separated from their "green" by the scam.

Panders to Idiots (2)

rubycodez (864176) | about 2 years ago | (#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.

Eventual savings (1)

PPH (736903) | about 2 years ago | (#39868385)

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 indicator of needed replacement. And as this craft has an alternate power source, the combination of the reliability of both could relax the criticality of either one by itself.

If the manufacturer is smart, they will have established a certification program with the FAA to develop these new guidelines. And they may subsidize the initial higher costs during this program in order to attract customers.

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