Stefan Drury’s YouTube video about the Pipistrel Alpha Electro is a great way to spend 9:27 of your precious time.
The video is beautifully shot and marvellously edited. This isn’t Stefan’s first video. That is obvious.
But two simple sequences in the video jump out at me.
The first takes place in the intro and is then repeated, with necessary details, at the one-minute mark.
One moment, the motor is not running. In the next moment, it is.
That is terribly exciting to me.
A few summers ago I flew from Denver to Oshkosh for AirVenture with a couple of friends in their Cirrus SR-22T. We planned for, but failed to execute, a quickturn in Iowa.
We just couldn’t get that wonderfully thirsty – and still hot – engine started. Thus, our quickturn became a slowturn.
I also recall performing the hot engine start dance – twice – in our Beech Baron each time we stopped for fuel.
I’ve long been frustrated at the difficulties of starting an aircraft engine. Especially compared to the ease-of-use of automobile engines.
The other interesting point in the video is when the discussion turns to flying time versus charging time.
“Generally speaking, for about an hour of flying it’s about an hour ten to hour fifteen minutes of charging,” says Barrie Rogers from Eyre to There Aviation.
Fly for an hour. Charge for an hour plus a little.
While that performance would make a cross-country flight an exercise in patience, that isn’t what the Alpha Electro is for.
Each time I’ve written about electric-powered aircraft I’m told, repeatedly, that avgas has a higher energy density compared to batteries for a given weight, among other challenges.
I’m certain those who tell me that are correct.
But the Alpha Electro is a trainer, with lots of one-hour flights in its future. These flights aren’t speculative or some day dreams. They are happening today.
I imagine battery engineers are working on ways to increase the amount of charge a battery can hold for a given battery and increasing the speed to re-charge.
In avgas burning aircraft, the analog is installing larger fuel tanks and using a larger diameter fuel hose.
I have no idea when, or even if, battery technology will make a significant leap forward. But I bet Ford, with its newly announced 2022 F-150 Lightning, not to mention Tesla, GM, and every other automaker and computer manufacturer all have their sights and budgets aimed at improving battery tech across the board.
A recent story in Forbes reports as much regarding development of aluminum-ion batteries.
Whether a student flies an hour-long lesson in the Alpha Electro or a Cessna 152 matters not. The time and training will be the same.
The difference, in this case, is on the ground.
A Cessna 152 can be re-fueled more quickly than the Alpha Electro can be re-charged. How much quicker? If your flight school is finely tuned like a Formula 1 pit crew, there is no competition. But most flight schools don’t quite meet the F1 standard.
A flight school with fuel trucks increases the efficiency of prepping the airplane for the next lesson. While the student and instructor secure the airplane, the fuel truck can roll up to top the tanks. But if the student has to taxi to a fuel pump, pump the gas, then re-start and move to secure the aircraft, the difference starts to narrow.
To me, this is akin to the high-wing or low-wing argument. Some pilots prefer to sit atop the wing, others prefer to hang below. Neither is right. It is a matter of preference.
I haven’t had the pleasure of flying in Pipistrel’s cute little trainer. I look forward to changing that at some point in the future.