Aviation is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases. In the United States, commercial flights produce about 805 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. This is about 2% of all U.S. emissions and about 3.5% of global emissions from aviation.
Reducing the environmental impact of aviation is a challenge because there are few technological options for reducing emissions from aircraft engines, and demand for air travel is growing. Unlike ground EVs, putting batteries and electric motors in a plane is a very different proposition. For one, the power-to-weight ratio means that electric aircraft would have to be much larger and heavier than their fossil fuel counterparts, which is not ideal for a mode of transportation that is all about speed and efficiency, and you certainly can’t just haul batteries around and not leave capacity for people and/or cargo.
Fortunately, there are still companies grinding away at the problem, and trying to bring electric aircraft not only to market, but in a way that’s viable for real-world use cases. One of these companies, which we’ve been covering since 2017, is Eviation. Over time, designs have changed quite a bit from where they were a few years ago, but slow and steady progress has been made, and lead to an important milestone recently.
The company has proven that a viable electric aircraft can really fly, and that their design survives the real world instead of just on paper or in simulations. To learn more about that, I’d recommend reading my colleague Tina’s article.
Before I get to how the plane could transform the industry, let’s explore the background a bit and discuss the first flight briefly so that we can all be on the same page.
The Road From There To Here
In our 2018 coverage, the company revealed key details of its strategy and technology.
According to its CEO, flying a business jet on average costs $3,000 per hour. However, an electric airplane virtually cuts that cost by 90%. Furthermore, since an electric aircraft is 92-95% more efficient than any kerosene counterpart, it must also abide by the same weight restrictions when landing. Even though this might sound complex, all modern airliners are designed this way so they can take off and land with exactly the same weight in case of emergency. So, not “losing weight” during a flight isn’t a big challenge for designers.
The company said viable flight is really feasible with a 400Wh/kg battery, and that batteries made today are, in fact, energy dense enough to work out. For Alice, the battery pack makes up 65% of the aircraft’s weight with 900 kWh. The electric motors produce 3×260 kW of power. This gives the Alice a service ceiling of 30,000 ft (9,144 m) and an approach landing speed of 100 knots.
Before May 2019, Eviation selected the magniX magni250 propulsion system for its airplane. The company’s goal was to be the first to offer an electric commuter plane that was fully operational. With a maximum takeoff weight of 6,350 kg (about 14,000 lb), the Alice electric passenger aircraft should fly 650 miles (208 nm) cruising at about 240 knots (276 MPH), with a service ceiling of 30,000 feet — enough to clear traffic on hour-long flights.
in June 2019, right after unveiling the electric airplane in Paris, Eviation reportedly secured its first buyer, Cape Air. In 2021, the design was finished, and the company was preparing for the runway. They originally planned to fly in 2021, but things didn’t go according to plan, and it took longer than they hoped.
Later last year, Eviation picked up another customer: DHL. At the time, the first electric air freight network in the world will be created by DHL when it agreed to buy 12 Alice electric cargo planes from Eviation. The 12 planes will be used in DHL’s United States operations. In 2024, Eviation expects DHL Express to receive the zero emissions cargo aircraft.
Now, Eviation Has Completed A Test Flight
On September 27 at 7:10 a.m., Alice took off from Grant County International Airport (MWH). For 8 minutes, it flew at an altitude of 3,500 feet; this was the first flight for the technology demonstrator. Eviation gathered crucial data from the flight to assist with optimizing the aircraft for commercial production.
“Today we embark on the next era of aviation – we have successfully electrified the skies with the unforgettable first flight of Alice,” said Eviation President and CEO Gregory Davis. “People now know what affordable, clean and sustainable aviation looks and sounds like for the first time in a fixed-wing, all-electric aircraft. This ground-breaking milestone will lead innovation in sustainable air travel, and shape both passenger and cargo travel in the future.”
Eviation’s customers were glad to see the plane have a successful flight.
“The first flight of Alice represents a transformational milestone for the aviation industry,” said Cape Air Founder and Board Chairman Dan Wolf. “We currently fly more than 400 regional flights per day, connecting more than 30 cities across the United States and Caribbean. Alice can easily cover 80 percent of our flight operations, bringing sustainable, emission-free travel to the communities we serve.”
DHL was also excited to see that its order for 12 cargo planes was coming closer to reality.
“The first flight of Alice confirms our belief that the era of sustainable aviation is here,” said Geoff Kehr, Senior Vice President, Global Air Fleet Management, DHL Express. “With our order of 12 Alice e-cargo planes, we are investing towards our overall goal of zero-emissions logistics. DHL is the industry leader by introducing new and more sustainable cargo aircraft types to the global market. Alice is the true game-changer by enabling long distance air transport for the first time with zero emissions. This historic flight marks a significant milestone on our journey to ultimately achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.”
Updated Information On The Plane
As we know, Alice is a zero-emissions, low-noise, and economically efficient mode of transportation. It costs a fraction to run per flight hour than light jets or high-end turboprops and produces no carbon emissions. But, getting details on the final design and what it can actually do is important, especially for potential buyers and investors.
The final design has a maximum operating speed of 260 knots (about 300 MPH, 481 kph). Maximum load for passenger versions will be 2,500 pounds, or 2,600 pounds for the cargo version of the aircraft.
The six-passenger ExecuCar is offered in three versions, with a nine-passenger commuter car, an elegant and sophisticated six-passenger executive cabin, and an eCargo variant. All setups accommodate two crew members. The executive cabin and eCargo versions are the same as the commuter model except for the inside.
Alice is powered by two electric propulsion units from magniX. These are the only flight-proven electric propulsion systems at this scale, and they allow for reduced noise pollution and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Other key suppliers include AVL (battery support), GKN (wings), Honeywell (advanced fly-by-wire system, flight controls and avionics), Multiplast (fuselage), Parker Aerospace (six technology systems), Potez (doors).
The company also says that the battery system is removable and upgradable, which means that in the future as battery technology improves, people will be able to get better range, performance, and possibly payload out of it. The aircraft’s fly-by-wire cockpit provides enhanced reliability and system redundancy, according to the manufacturer.
In Part 2, I’m going to cover how this small, but much cheaper to operate plane could transform the industry and make travel by plane fun again!
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Source: Clean Technica