Ampaire’s Eco Caravan, a nine-seat regional aircraft, has just made its first flight on a fully-integrated hybrid-electric propulsion system. Ampaire expects it to be the first electrified regional aircraft to enter commercial service (certification in 2024), and the first in a series of larger Ampaire hybrid-electric aircraft that will lead a transition to sustainable aviation.

The first flight was 33 minutes, performed to conduct initial checks of the hybrid-electric propulsion system. With test pilot Elliot Seguin, the Eco Caravan took off from Camarillo Airport north of Los Angeles at 7:49AM pacific time. It climbed to 3,500 feet at full power, combining power from the combustion engine and electric engine.

Seguin then throttled back to a cruise setting, reducing load on both power sources. He spent roughly 20 minutes testing various power settings while studying temperatures and other readings before making a descent and final approach to Camarillo at a low power setting. “The Eco Caravan propulsion system performed just as expected,” said Seguin. “It was smooth and quiet. All temperature and power output readings were normal.”

“Aviation is the hardest industry to de-carbonize,” said Ampaire CEO Kevin Noertker. “Fully-electric aircraft are range limited because of the weight and energy capacity of current-generation batteries. Hybrid-electric aircraft, however, can preserve the range and utility of today’s aircraft. That is why we are focused on hybrid-electric propulsion for a series of increasingly capable regional aircraft. It’s a way for the airline industry to de-carbonize more quickly and also to benefit from lower operating costs.”

Just recently, Ampaire received an award from the U.S. Department of Energy’s advanced research unit, ARPA-E, for $9 million. The agency’s SCALEUP program will fund the development of key hybrid-electric subsystems that can be produced in volume and meet the standards of the FAA and other certifying authorities. The first commercial application of SCALEUP technology is slated to be Ampaire’s Eco Caravan, which will accelerate Ampaire’s plans to bring compelling and practical hybrid-electric aircraft to market.

Why it’s important: This is a first and a major milestone in a new generation of sustainable electrified aircraft. The Eco Caravan’s propulsion technology is scalable to larger regional aircraft and ultimately to single-aisle airlines. Ampaire plans to rapidly roll out more powerful propulsion systems for larger aircraft, following a building-block approach that will dramatically improve the sustainability of airline operations.

Ampaire’s approach differs from other electric aviation developers in that its current aircraft in development will not require a full aircraft certification program, as these can be time consuming and very expensive. The Grand Caravan is already FAA certified, meaning Ampaire is simply certifying it to fly with a new propulsion system. Ampaire is already working with the FAA to certify the Eco Caravan under a supplemental type certificate (STC) by 2024.

Source // Ampaire press release

Posted by Naish Gaubatz