Ampaire hybrid-electric regional aircraft flies
Ampaire‘s Eco Caravan, a nine-seat regional aircraft, made its first flight Nov. 18, 2022, 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 Eco Caravan reduces fuel consumption and emissions by up to 70%. Seat-mile cost is near that of driving, according to Ampaire.
“Aviation is the hardest industry to decarbonize,” 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 decarbonize more quickly and also to benefit from lower operating costs.”
The landmark achievement adds momentum to a program that has attracted key customers and program participants in recent months. In October, the company announced a relationship with Air France Industries KLM Engineering and Maintenance (AFI KLM E&M) for a range of worldwide maintenance service and support activities. Also in October, Ampaire received an order from MONTE, a financier of sustainable regional aviation technologies, for up to 50 Eco Caravans. “These types of relationships ensure that Ampaire’s customers worldwide have compelling financing and leasing support alongside world class maintenance/repair/overhaul support,” said Noertker.
The Eco Caravan upgrades the standard Cessna Grand Caravan with Ampaire’s integrated propulsion system of a compression ignition engine and an electric engine. A battery pack in a body fairing preserves passenger and cargo capacity for the aircraft.
The first flight was 33 minutes in duration to make initial checks of the propulsion system. With test pilot Elliot Seguin at the controls, the Eco Caravan took off from Camarillo Airport north of Los Angeles. It climbed to 3,500ft 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.”
The hybrid-electric aircraft preserves the range/payload capability of the Grand Caravan and can fly farther than the Grand Caravan with eight passengers. Maximum range is expected to be beyond 1,000 miles.
The Eco Caravan can recharge its batteries in flight or at a charging station on the ground. Because charging infrastructure will be limited for some years, the ability to operate independent of ground charging is critical for preserving the full utility of the Eco Caravan.
Ampaire plans to rapidly roll out more powerful propulsion systems for larger aircraft, following a building blocks approach.
“As proud as we are of the Eco Caravan, we see it as a first step to larger hybrid-electric propulsions systems and ultimately zero-emission systems as energy storage technology advances,” Noertker said.
Ampaire is already working with the FAA to certify the Eco Caravan in 2024 under a supplemental type certificate (STC). The Ampaire approach differs from others in that it does not require a full aircraft certification program, which can be time consuming and very expensive. The Grand Caravan is already FAA certified. Ampaire will certify it to fly with a new propulsion system.
Los Angeles-based Ampaire has scored a series of industry firsts since the 2019 maiden flight of its Electric EEL technology testbed aircraft, including the longest flight for a hybrid-electric aircraft – 1,135 statute miles en route from Los Angeles to Oshkosh, Wisconsin.]]>