Dan Johnson, president of the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association, is an expert on Light Sport Aircraft.
You’re probably aware of the auto industry’s billion-dollar bet on electric cars. Skeptics are plentiful. Same for airplanes. Despite doubts, even Cessna and Bye Energy are teaming up on an electric 172. Other LSA electric projects are also underway and it’s all good in my mind.
Most e-powered aircraft remain in the future. Yet here today is the E-Spyder. You can place an order that’ll set you back less than $30,000. Plus it’s a true Part 103 ultralight, meaning you don’t need no stinkin’ government license to fly it.
I wish I lived closer to Woodstock, Conn., where co-developer Tom Peghiny is flying Yuneec’s E-Spyder along with a few trusted friends. The one they’re flying has longer wings and a battery-hiding compartment. So far Peghiny and team have taken 15 flights on the upgraded version.
This prototype (#3) has many changes over the original that was shown at AirVenture in 2009. “The structure uses a good bit of thin (0.9 mm/.035 inch) 7075-T6 tubing to reduce weight, a carbon sandwich fairing to reduce weight, and lightweight Mylar laminate Dacron wing covering,” Peghiny wrote in a recent e-mail. He also noted the E-Spyder is much cleaner looking than before. “The battery has been moved to the fuselage to reduce drag and is now housed in a single battery box that slides in and out like a dresser drawer on rollers,” he explained. “The battery has additional capacity and uses fewer cells (18) which greatly simplifies the balancing during charging. Charging takes 2 to 2.5 hours depending on the discharge state.”
Yuneec — which bought the airframe rights from Flightstar to pursue the electric-power project — has developed the motor to further reduce the maximum rpm, increasing the torque, which allows a larger and even quieter propeller.
All cool! But how does it fly? “The lower drag installation and the other changes to the aerodynamics make the aircraft really perform,” noted Peghiny. “We now have some performance numbers: Top speed 52 mph; stall speed 22 mph; cruise speed 35 mph; climb 375 fpm; duration 20 to 35 minutes in calm air.” But for longtime soaring pilots like Peghiny and me, he saved the best for last: “We’ve been able to soar it in light thermals as it really wants to go up.”
For green-tech enthusiasts he added one more comment: “We get our electricity from Community Energy, which is 80% windmill and some hydroelectric, so we’ve been flying on windmill power.” Huh! Giant windmills power a small windmill (the prop) and man flies. Cool!
For more information: FlyFlightstar.com
For more on Sport Pilot and LSA: ByDanJohnson.com