Electric Airplane Makes History

Earlier this year a small white-and-red Cessna Grand Caravan took off from Moses Lake in Washington state and flew itself into the history books. The aircraft flew at speeds topping 100 mph to an altitude of around 2,500 feet, made some turns, and then landed after about 30 minutes. What made history was under the hood. The eCaravan is powered by a 750-horsepower electric motor and supplied with energy by more than 2,000 pounds of lithium-ion batteries. Weighing in at over 4 tons, and with a wingspan of over 50 feet, it’s the largest electric plan ever to have taken flight.

The Future of Climate-Friendly Air Travel?

Electric airplanes have been heralded as the future of cleaner, climate-friendly air travel. Electric motors have several advantages over gas-powered engines but one major shortcoming is the batteries that give them power. While significant advances in battery technology have been made over the last decade, batteries are still too heavy to fully replace fossil fuel aircraft.

Better for Short Distances

Despite the drawback of the battery weight and life, the CEO of magniX, Roei Ganzarski, the company developing the eCaravan has a different opinion. He says electric aircraft can be better than fossil-fuel propeller planes over distances of up to 1,000 miles. This flight distance makes up more than half of all passenger flights in the world today. He argues that airlines using jets or turboprops are wasting fuel and damaging the environment. He also says electric is cheaper.

What are the Benefits of Electric Planes?

Proponents say that electric airplanes are quieter, safer, and cheaper to run than fossil fuel planes. The half-hour Moses Lake eCaravan flight, for example, used just $6 of electricity, instead of $300 of kerosene. And the gasoline engine of the smaller chase plane was twice as loud. Electric motors are also lighter than fossil fuel engines, don’t need as much maintenance, and last much longer before needing to be replaced.

Limited Range Issues

The biggest drawback of electric aircraft is their limited range, which is dictated by the batteries they’re able to carry. Today’s batteries are at least 30 times heavier than an energy-equivalent volume of kerosene, so electric aircraft can only make shorter flights. The eCaravan has a range of about 100 miles, while a turboprop Cessna Caravan with the same weight of kerosene can fly 15 times the distance.

Although electric planes have not taken over, don’t count them out just yet. Electric-car maker Tesla is about to reveal a “million-mile” battery that will transform batteries in both cars and airplanes. Stay tuned…

Would You Like to Fly an Electric Airplane?

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