Electric Airplanes? At Scottsdale Airpark?

by Merrill Moss on March 8, 2011

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Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane!

No, it’s an electric plane!

It turns out that there’s a real possibility Scottsdale could be the first US airport to have a significant installation of electric planes.

We’re not talking about a miniature airplane remotely controlled from the ground—this would be a conventional single-engine airplane, retrofitted with a battery-powered electric engine.

A huge benefit of such a plane is that it will fly nearly noise-free. And because there is really only one moving part, another key advantage would be lower maintenance costs.

Some will also say it’s greener, but that depends on the calculation of the emissions from a gasoline engine compared to the emissions from producing the electricity used to charge and re-charge the batteries.

Then too, there is the weight of the batteries on board the aircraft vis Ă  vis the weight of gasoline, the life of the batteries, and the environmental costs of disposing of unreusable batteries.

In any case, what appears to be America’s first electric airplane engine is now being built, by Bye Aerospace Inc., a 3-year old private Englewood, Colorado company with local offices at ASU’s Scottsdale Innovation Center (Skysong).

What’s more, Bye Aerospace is now evaluating the Scottsdale Airpark as the base for seven to ten electric airplanes to be used as a facility to convert conventional gasoline-engine aircraft to electric engines, flight-school training, and a sales office.

The current version of Bye’s electric airplane engine will run for about 2.5 hours, about half the normal span of a gas-powered plane. Although that would impact the range the airplane can safely fly, the company says that recharging the batteries will take only 30 minutes, as compared to the two hours or so it takes for a typical electric engine today.

The decision to locate in the Scottsdale Airpark will be made this fall, and if so, the facility would open sometime in 2012. It would certainly be another feather in Scottsdale’s cap.

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