A battery-powered electric plane has successfully completed its first test flight over Australia.
Designed by aerospace manufacturer Pipistrel, the Alpha Electro is a light fixed-wing plane that’s powered entirely by an on-board battery bank. According to the company’s Wikipedia page, it has enough power for one hour of flight time. While that may seem rather short, the Alpha Electro can recharge in just 45 minutes, or the pilot and crew can replace the batteries in just five minutes.
Of course, there are some key nuances between the Alpha Electro and its gas-powered Pipistrel Alpha counterpart. The Pipistrel Alpha holds about 78 pounds of fuel when full, whereas the Alpha Electro holds 277 pounds of lithium-ion batteries. What that said, the electric engine used by the Alpha Electro is lighter than the engine used by the Pipistrel Alpha. The Alpha Electro’s engine weighs a mere 24 pounds while boasting a “useful load” of roughly 380 pounds.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of the Alpha Electro is its cost savings. The electricity costs of flying the Alpha Electro is just one-tenth the cost of fuel. And because it’s powered by batteries, it doesn’t produce emission gasses.
While the Alpha Electro was introduced several years ago, it just recently completed its first test flight over Australia. As reported by Deccan Chronicle, the test flight was performed by the Australian company Electro.Aero, which received certification for the battery-powered test flight in 2017 by the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority.
When speaking about the test flight, Richard Charlton of Electro.Aero explained that his company has already received inqueries from several major airports. These airports are looking to buy the Alpha Electro because of its quiet performance. Unlike traditional planes, the Alpha Electro produces little-to-no noise, making it an excellent alternative in areas where noise is a concern.
“This is the start of the next revolution in general aviation. We are already fielding inquiries from airports located in major cities where noise complaints have become their number one concern. The electric engine is really simple,” says Richard Charlton, finance director of Electro.Aero. “It has one moving part, it’s a very small piece of equipment and it is a solid-state motor.”
Of course, there are major challenges facing the Alpha Electro, one of which is flight distance. As previously mentioned, it flies for just one hour tops with a full charge. If a pilot or crew wants to travel farther, they’ll probably have to use a traditional gas-powered plane instead.