Electric aviation is the very definition of modern flying. No longer powered solely by gas engines, this type of aircraft uses electricity to fly. Instead of relying on high-pressure kerosene or liquid fuel to power the plane, modern electric aircraft run on a variety of alternative sources, from alternative energy sources to batteries. The airplane actually runs on batteries that store electric charge, instead of gasoline or kerosene.
While electric propulsion does have some advantages over fossil-based propulsion, there are also some disadvantages. Chief among these is the amount of carbon emissions produced during flight. In fact, many experts believe that it may be impossible to meet current fuel needs with electric aviation. Can a plane fly with one engine, powered only by electricity?
The short answer is no. Although planes powered entirely by electric propulsion have not yet been developed, there are new designs in development. Such planes, however, cannot fly and land indoors. However, there are design solutions to reduce emissions while increasing performance and power, allowing electric aviation enthusiasts to enjoy low-cost flights and cleaner air.
One way to reduce emissions while increasing performance is by using electric motors to propel the airplane. This is where a series of batteries connect to a series of electric motors. The motor drives the airplane into position, and the batteries store the electrical charge as an energy source for later use. This form of electric aircraft does not require fuel; however, there are a few restrictions placed on its operation. For instance, a single electric motor cannot be used to power the plane at the same time; each must recharge before use.
There are many regulations governing the operation of electric aircraft, similar to those governing the operation of traditional planes. Some of these regulations have been implemented into regulations by the Federal Aviation Administration ( FAA ). Still, there are many exemptions that allow passengers to fly the craft even if it does not meet strict regulations. Airlines may still charge the passengers a fee to fly an electric aircraft. Even though this is the case, many passengers would rather pay the fee and not have to worry about emissions or safety problems.
Another popular option for electric aviation is to use battery power. The primary disadvantage of this type of system is that there is no mechanism to “bank” power during the moments when the aircraft is in flight. Therefore, pilots must be ready to make manual adjustments to the engines to compensate. While batteries do provide a much longer range than traditional motors, they still rely on a continuous source of power, so a pilot may have to make frequent “checks” to keep batteries charged.
A very interesting technology being used today in electric aviation is the Vertical takeoff and reverse thrust system. This system requires the use of a tiny, lightweight motor that is activated by the touch of a button. Once the throttle is activated, the motor forces the plane to accelerate upward in a vertical takeoff. As the motor starts to slow the plane again, the momentum of the airplane converts to lift which pushes the plane backward until it is ready to reverse again. An impressive demonstration of how quickly an electric aircraft can move in reverse with the use of a tiny electric motor.
While the applications for this technology are limited only by the imagination, one company has already received a permit from the Federal Aviation Administration to build and offer flight testing equipment to the private sector. The equipment will be made available to anyone who can afford to buy it, but the cost of certification will be prohibitive to many smaller operators. One day, perhaps soon, all aircraft will have one of these systems as standard equipment. Until then, the only way to fly in this fashion is to jump in one’s airplane and try it out for yourself.