Aviation’s efforts to move from 100% fossil fuels and reduce emissions has taken a big step forward.
On 18 November, Ampaire’s Eco Caravan made its first flight using a fully-integrated hybrid-electric propulsion system.
Ampaire says it expects the Eco Caravan – derived from the famous Cessna nine-seat regional aircraft – to be the first electrified regional aircraft to enter commercial service, with certification in 2024. It will also be the first in a series of larger Ampaire hybrid-electric aircraft.
“Aviation is the hardest industry to decarbonise,” notes Ampaire CEO, Kevin Noertker. “Fully-electric aircraft are range limited because of the weight and energy capacity of current-generation batteries. Hybrid-electric aircraft, however, can preserve the range and utility of today’s aircraft. That is why we are focused on increasingly capable regional aircraft. It’s a way for the airline industry to decarbonise more quickly and also to benefit from lower operating costs.”
The landmark flight has added momentum to the programme, following on from a deal with Air France Industries KLM Engineering and Maintenance (AFI KLM E&M) for a range of worldwide maintenance service and support activities and an order from MONTE, a financier of sustainable regional aviation technologies, for up to 50 Eco Caravans.
The first flight was 33 minutes in duration to make initial checks of the propulsion system. With test pilot Elliot Seguin at the controls, the Eco Caravan took off and climbed to 3,500 ft at full power, combining power from the combustion engine and electric engine. Seguin then put the aircraft into a cruise setting, reducing load on both power sources. Around 20 minutes were spent on testing various power settings while studying temperatures and other readings before making the descent and final approach at a low power setting. “The Eco Caravan propulsion system performed just as expected,” Seguin reports. “It was smooth and quiet. All temperature and power output readings were normal.”
Just by its powerplant design, the Eco Caravan reduces fuel consumption and emissions by up to 70 percent. The emissions, however, approach net zero when using sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).
The Eco Caravan can recharge its batteries in flight or at a charging stations on the ground. Because charging infrastructure will be limited for some years, the ability to operate independent of ground charging is critical for preserving the full utility of the Eco Caravan.