While it may be some time before we see electric propulsion used in commercial airliners, at the other end of the scale, business is booming. The biggest problem facing designers is the weight-to-energy ratio of fuel cells, meaning that they are a heavy way of carrying around energy. Luckily in the light aviation world, designers don't have to worry so much about having long flight durations or carrying heavy payloads. This has made achieving electric and hybrid flight not only possible but also accessible to the average aviator.
One of the leaders in European and world electric aviation has been the French company Electravia. Its range of electric planes, ultralights and gliders boasts a couple of firsts, including the Electra which was the first 100 percent electric plane in the world, the ElectroTrike which was the first delta trike marketed in Europe, and the Alatus-ME, a motoglider which comes in either a conventional 2-stroke version or with a purpose-built electric motor and propeller set up.
Gizmag was lucky enough to see the Alatus-ME up close at the Salon de l'aviation verte in Paris earlier this year. It took around 40 minutes to set it up, probably due to the constant questions from visitors. With a 43ft (13m) wingspan, an hour and a half range and priced at €32,400 (a little over US$40,000), it is well within the range of your average aviator.
In the pipeline are a two prototype models – the ElectroLight, which is due to hit the market in May 2011, and the futuristic-looking ElectroClub, a delta wing concept plane capable of seating two, which looks something like a personal stealth bomber. “It's a concept plane, not realized for the moment,” Anne Lavrand, General Manager of Electravia told Gizmag. “Conception is finished. We are now looking for an amount of €250,000 (US$343,680) to build the prototype and to fly it.”
The Electravia E-Motor, which comes in 26, 35 and 43hp models and the E-Props – propellers especially designed for use with the electric E-Motor – were recently used to set the world speed record for an electric plane. In September, Hugues Duval achieved a top speed of 262km/h (163mph) in his purpose-built MC15E Cri Cri called “E-Cristaline”. The record was set at the Pontoise Air Show. The aircraft had two 43hp E-Motors running specially engineered E-Props designed for the record attempt.