Electric planes and other green aircraft have become more prevalent in recent times, with the ongoing success of Solar Impulse and Electra One winning the Lindbergh Electric Aircraft Prize at Oshkosh. But this environmentally friendly form of aviation has a long pedigree reaching back more than a century, beginning with La France airship in 1883 and extending through the twentieth century with projects like the Gossamer Penguin. Here are 10 modern electric aircraft that are blazing that trail into the twenty first century.
Developed by the shadowy Phantom Works, the Boeing-FCD (Fuel Cell Demonstrator) Project is a technology demonstrator aiming to develop a fuel cell powered light research aircraft. The electric plane utilizes a Diamond HK-36 Super Dimona motor glider engine and first flew in February 2008. Boeing’s partners in FCD Project include UK and Spanish companies.
A joint project between DigiSky and Polytechnic University of Berlin, SpySpark is a twin-seat Pioneer Alpi 300 with a 75 kW brushless electric motor powered by lithium polymer batteries. On June 12, 2009, SpySpark flew into the record books, becoming the fastest manned electric aircraft after reaching speeds of 155 mph.
The Colomban Cri-Cri (designed in the 1970s) is the smallest twin-engined manned aircraft in the world, but this 2010 overhaul by the European aerospace company (EADS) saw the ultralight vintage plane reborn with four electric engines. Powered by lithium batteries, the Cri-Cri (short for cricket) can fly for 30 minutes at 60 kn or 15 minutes of aerobatics with a climb rate of 1,000 feet per minute. This low cost design will support EADS research into hybrid propulsion for helicopters.
Equipped with a 5.6 kW lithium-ion polymer battery powering an electric motor, the Electraflyer can remain aloft for between one and two hours. Charging takes around five hours with a standard 120 volt outlet but can be reduced to two hours using 240 volts. Accessories even include a ballistic parachute, and the total weight comes in at just 249 pounds.
In 2007 Sonex Aircraft announced a series of alternative power initiatives including the development of an electric aircraft. The Waiex motor glider first flew in 2010, powered by a 54 kW brushless DC electric motor run off 14.5 kW-hour lithium polymer batteries. The aircraft can fly for one hour at low speed and manage 15 minutes of aerobatics. The electric aircraft pictured above is the Sonex Xenos, a development of the Waiex.
Yuneec International E430
This twin-seat Chinese V tailed aircraft, constructed from composite materials with high-aspect ratio wing, was introduced in 2009 as a homebuilt aircraft for the U.S. market. The Yuneec International E430 runs on battery packs which – the company claims – have a lifespan of 1,500 hours at a cost of $7,000 each. Operating three to five battery packs gives the electric aircraft around two hours flight time, while the production plane is expected to cost $89,000.
Developed by Flightstar Sportplanes in cooperation with Yuneec, the Flightstar e-Spyder is an electric version of the earlier Spyder ultralight. Powered by a 20 kW electric motor and two 28 lb lithium-polymer battery packs, the aircraft has a 40 minute endurance. First exhibited at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2009, the Flightstar e-Spyder homebuilt aircraft is set to cost $25,000.
Lange Antares 20E
This self-launching motor glider is powered by a 42 kW electric motor and lithium-ion batteries. Featuring a twin-blade fixed pitch propeller, the Lange Antares 20E can climb to almost 10,000 feet and can function as a conventional glider after launch. Fifty had been produced as of January 2010.
PC-Aero Elektra One
This single-seat composite aircraft – a development of a commercial electric aircraft design by PC-Aero – made its maiden flight in early 2011. Powered by a 16 kW electric motor, the Elektra One has a top speed of 100 mph and an endurance of three hours. The German plane won the coveted Lindbergh Electric Aircraft Prize at EAA AirVenture (Oshkosh) 2011 – read more.
Sunseeker II (Top Image)
Originally built in 2002, the Sunseeker II was an updated of an earlier solar powered plane that first flew in the 1990s. Equipped with a more powerful motor and larger wing, it was the only manned solar powered aircraft in flying condition as of 2008, and in 2009 became the first solar powered plane to cross the Alps. The event marked 99 years since the first airborne crossing of the Alps in 1910.