Australia's first electric plane takes to the skies

| 04.01,18. 07:34 PM |

Australia's first electric plane takes to the skies

Photo: Pilot Robert Bodley will be training other pilots to fly the electric plane. (ABC News: Elicia Kennedy)

Australia's first electric aircraft has begun test flights at Perth's Jandakot Airport, amid hopes the plane will be flying to nearby Rottnest Island within months.

The two-seater single-engine Pipistrel Alpha Electro has two batteries that can keep the plane in the air for an hour, with an extra 30 minutes in reserve.

The team behind the plane says while there are environmental benefits in doing away with jet fuel, electric planes are also safer and easier to fly.

"Electric propulsion is a lot simpler than a petrol engine," Electro.Aero founder Joshua Portlock said.

"Inside a petrol engine you have hundreds of moving parts.

"In this aircraft you have one switch to turn the aircraft on and one throttle lever to fly."

The engine is powered by two lithium-ion batteries, similar to those used in the Tesla electric car.

There is no gear box or multiple moving engine parts —instead the plane's motor attaches directly to the propeller.

Rather than a fuel gauge, a panel tells the pilot the amount of power left in the battery, and estimated minutes of flight time, based on the throttle position.

The batteries are re-energised in about an hour by a supercharger based at the Jandakot airfield.

Mr Portlock claims electric planes will prove a safer alternative to conventional fuel-powered aircraft because of their simplicity.

"You are dealing with 50 years (of) engine technology in aircraft, so that complexity adds to the risk of flying and the time it takes to learn to fly," he said.

But although they are constantly improving, batteries remain limited in the amount of energy they can store.

The batteries in this plane are expected to be viable for about 1000 flying hours.

But the cost of flying and maintenance is significantly cheaper.

It costs about $3 an hour to run the plane's engine, one-tenth the cost of a fuel engine.

The plane uses 110 kilowatts of power to take off and climb to altitude.

But once it is gliding, the motor switches off, and like an electric car, it is almost silent.

"It's more comfortable," pilot Robert Bodley said.

"The vibration is less, the heating is less, it's a more stable aircraft as well."

In mid-January Mr Bodley will begin training local pilots to fly the single-engine electric plane, with registered pilots required to complete a familiarisation flight before flying solo.

Mr Portlock said the group had held discussions with the Rottnest Island Authority to install a supercharger to tap into its solar array, allowing pilots to fly the plane to the island.

Future plans include electric air-taxis capable of carrying up to five people to the holiday destination.


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