AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 20

PROFICIENT PILOT

Watts up?

BY BARRY SCHIFF

Turned on by electricity

BARRY SCHIFF

began flying at age
14 in 1952, flew for
TWA for 34 years,
and has logged
28,000 hours.

READERS OF THIS PAGE should not be surprised
to read that I collect airplanes, meaning that I am
motivated to fly as many different types of aircraft as
possible. So far, my tally has reached 361. My longterm goal has been to reach 400, but that is becoming
less likely. My short-term goal is to make the Pipistrel
Alpha Electro number 362. This electrically powered,
light sport aircraft is made in Slovenia, and seven
of them have thus far reached our shores. It is the
world's first and only certified electric airplane. (Thus
far, the Electro has been approved for LSA operations
in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.)
The primary advantages of an electric airplane
are obvious. No avgas is required, nor must payload
be sacrificed to carry it. This, of course, substantially lowers the hourly operating cost as well as
the risk of engine fire, especially because there is
no engine. Nor is there risk of fire in the unlikely
event of a crash landing. The airplane is relatively
quiet; there is only propeller noise. Pipistrel claims
that the chances of an electrical fire are extremely
remote-100 million to 1 against it. Landing weight
is always the same as when you took off. The electric airplane, of course, does not create pollution,
but this does not factor in the environmental distress-and the cost of energy-resulting from having
to charge the 399-volt batteries.
Motor reliability and smoothness are superior to
those of the piston engine, and the Pipistrel-made
powerplant requires no maintenance. I mean, what
can go wrong with it? You need only to overhaul the
motor every 2,000 hours until it reaches its maximum life of 6,000 hours. The batteries are made by
Samsung and are said to last 17 years.
Although I have yet to fly the Electro-or any electrically powered aircraft, for that matter-I have been
told that starting the motor is little different than flipping a wall switch to turn on a ceiling fan, and the
"throttle" is no more than a rheostat, sort of like a
light dimmer. I don't know about you, but I think I
would miss the sound of a reciprocating engine coming to life and its promise of power and flight. Color
me weird, but I even enjoy the momentary aroma of
exhaust and spent avgas when firing up certain opencockpit biplanes. I certainly would miss the challenge
involved in starting some engines, especially the
large radials that require an orchestrated flurry of

20 | AOPA PILOT December 2020

coordinated hand movements. I love the sound and
feeling of these beasts awakening one cylinder at a
time while producing prodigious volumes of smoke,
barking and banging all the while and then mellowing into a smooth, satisfying rumble.
The simplicity of electric propulsion makes us
realize how much there is to learn about operating
internal combustion engines. There is no oil temperature, cylinder head temperature, or oil pressure
with which to be concerned. You certainly don't
have to worry about carburetor or induction icing.
Detonation? Preignition? What's that? The art and
science of leaning disappears, as does the "automatic
rough" we experience when flying over large bodies
of water or at night-or does it?
The good news about piston engines, though, is
that you can land almost anywhere and know that you
can fill the tanks instead of having to wait around for
exasperating hours while batteries charge.
In fact, there are such dramatic differences
between operating an electric motor and a reciprocating engine, that I would not be surprised if
the FAA restricts those who learn to fly in electric
airplanes from flying aircraft with reciprocating
engines.
Performance of the Electro is not bad for a light
sport aircraft powered by a 60-kilowatt (80-horsepower) "engine." It can climb at 1,220 fpm, cruise
at 85 knots, and carry 400 pounds of payload. The
Electro's most serious handicap is restricted endurance because of limited battery capacity. Range, for
example, is only 70 nm. It can do pattern work for
an hour with a 20-minute reserve, but then you have
to land and either charge or exchange the batteries.
The limitations of the Alpha Electro are understandably a cause for skepticism. Cross-country flight
is virtually impossible unless you enjoy landing at a
whole lot of airports. Many wonder how such a seemingly impractical machine can find a place in the
U.S. market. This question, however, is reminiscent
of when, in 1783, Ben Franklin-then the U.S. diplomatic representative to France-joyously witnessed
the magic of a hot air balloon rising serenely from the
Champ de Mars in Paris. A nearby observer asked,
"But what good is it?" Franklin famously responded
with, "What good is a newborn baby?"
AOPA
barryschiff.com


http://barryschiff.com/

AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020

Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - Intro
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - Cover1
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - Cover2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 3
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 4
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 5
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 6
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 7
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 8
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 9
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 10
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 11
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 12
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 13
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 14
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 15
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 16
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 17
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 18
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 19
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 20
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 21
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 25
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 26
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 27
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 28
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 29
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 30
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 31
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 35
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 36
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 40
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 41
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 42
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 43
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 49
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - 50
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - Cover3
AOPA Pilot Magazine - December 2020 - Cover4
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