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Electric Flight

Battery-powered aircraft creates aviation and technology history

By Ross Tester

Two days before Christmas, a light aircraft took off from the Aspres sur Brec airfield near Gap in the French High Alps and flew for more than 50km without using a drop of petrol or avgas.

Some technical data:

Aircraft:

- "ELECTRA" registration no F-WMDJ :

- One-seater

- Kit construction, in wood and fabrics

- Wing span : 9m

- Length : 7m

- Weight of the aircraft without batteries: 134kg

- Maximum weight for take off : 265kg

- Cruise speed : 90km/h

- Special ground-adjustable propeller from ARPLAST

Electrical:

- Motor: 18kW disk brush type

- Batteries: Lithium - Polymer

- Total weight of batteries: 47kg

- Quick charge: 45 minutes

It was the first flight of a fixed-wing, piloted plane powered only by battery and electric motor. The plane, named the "Electra", was a single-seater Souricette wood-and-fabric aircraft, built from a kit and modified for the purpose. It was fitted with a British-made 25hp electric motor (of the type used in golf carts) and 48kg of lithium-polymer batteries.

With test pilot Christian Vandamme at the controls, it flew a course through The Alps for 48 minutes.

While electric-powered flight has been achieved before, it was either with ultralights, powered hang gliders or pilotless drones. In fact, SILICON CHIP featured such a flight more than fifteen years ago – in the October 1991 issue.

And US inventor Paul MacCready, who developed the first man-powered plane, the Gossamer Albatross, has also pioneered electric-motor-powered microlights and ultralights, including a flight over the English Channel in 1981.

However, a fixed-wing, conventional plane (one with an airworthiness certificate) flying with only battery power has until now been a dream.

A group founded to promote electric/green flight, the French "APAME" group, (rough translation Association for Promotion of Electric Aircraft), was behind the project, in collaboration with ACV Aero Services, Pegase, Capenergies and Onera.

President of APAME, Anne Levrand, said that the flight showed that non-polluting, quiet, light aviation was within reach. "Fuel cost per hour of the Electravia was around one Euro, compared with about 60 Euro for an equivalent petrol-driven aircraft," she said. "The motor and batteries will cost between ten and fifteen thousand Euro, roughly the same as current small petrol engines."

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