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Pipistrel Alpha Electro: Electric Flight Has Arrived

If you been waiting for the year electric airplane, it's already here. In fact, the Slovakian aircraft maker has been in the electric aviation market since 2018 with it's Alha Electro. The aircraft now boasts more than an hour of flight the 30 minute reserve, flies in approximately hundred miles an hour, and has made flight training significantly cheaper.

For those unfamiliar with flight training, the majority of time spent at the beginning of a pilot's training is doing takeoffs and landings. Circuits and bumps as it is sometimes called requires the aircraft to take off and land never leaving the traffic pattern at the airport. This type of flight is exactly what the Alpha Electro was designed for. It certainly is not going to break any speed records at 100 miles an hour, but you don't really need to worry about a top speed when the furthest that you get from them runway is less than a mile.

The Alpha Electro has provided a proof of concept for electric flight. In the general aviation market there is an entire subset of aircraft specifically designed for flight training. In the 1970s and 80s Cessna produced the Cessna 150/152, Piper answered with the infamous Piper Tomahawk, and Beechcraft finally entered the ball game with the Beechcraft Skipper. All of these aircraft performed just about the same: they burned about 5 gallons an hour, held two people, and fluid about 100 miles per hour. They all had a fixed pitch propeller and were designed with simplicity in mind.

Cessna produced just over 7500 150/152 aircraft from 1977 until 1985, Piper produced just under 2500 Tomahawks from 1978 to 1982, and Beechcraft built just 312 Skippers from 1979 to 1983. If you are in the market for a two seater training aircraft good luck finding one. These aircraft all have significant age as well as hours, and maintenance on these old aircraft continues to increase in price. There are of course plenty of 4 seater options out there, but it's difficult to rationalize flying with 3 empty seats for takeoffs and landings all day.

For flight schools having an aircraft with high time and high maintenance costs means an increase in the likelihood that the aircraft will fail, and it's also difficult to convince a newby pilot of safety in these aging aircraft. The Alpha Electro's hourly operating costs work out to approximately $25 per hour compared against the $60 in operating costs for comparable Cessna 150. Pipistrel notes the cost to charge the battery in the aircraft for an hours with the flight is approximately $3.

The aircraft also boasts one of the greatest inherent benefits of electric motors: simplicity. There is no need to worry about fouling plugs, the leaning of the mixture, carburetor heat, or an adjustable pitch propeller. The electric motor is and all ways and improvement to the internal combustion engines they replace.

In the years to come it's no doubt that flight schools will be looking towards an electrified fleet of aircraft to train the pilots of tomorrow.

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