Ampaire hybrid-electric eco-caravan made its first test flight

The Eco Caravan took its first flight on Friday, marking a key milestone in Ampaire’s efforts to bring the converted hybrid-electric aircraft to market. The 33-minute departure from Los Angeles-area Camarillo Airport marks the start of a flight test program that the California-based startup aims to lead to an FAA supplemental type certificate for its modification kit in 2024.

With test pilot Elliot Seguin at the controls, the plane took off at 7:49 a.m. PST and climbed to an altitude of 3,500 feet at full power. The pilot then throttled the aircraft to a cruise setting, reducing the load on both the internal combustion engine and the electric motor, after which he spent about 20 minutes testing the aircraft’s various power settings and observing temperature and other sensor readings before descending back towards airport. under low power conditions, according to Ampaire.

“The Eco Caravan’s propulsion system performed as expected,” Seguin said after the flight. “It was even and quiet. All temperature and power indicators were normal.”

Preparation for flight testing of the first Eco Caravan prototype was supported by extensive flight testing with Ampaire. Electric EEL technology demonstrator. This aircraft conducted exercises with partner airlines in Hawaii and the UK to assess factors such as infrastructure requirements for hybrid-electric aircraft.

For Ampaire, the nine-passenger Eco Caravan will be the first market entry longer term plan to support the electrification of larger aircraft. Next in the spotlight is the 19-seater EcoOtterthe redesigned DHC-6 Twin Otter, and beyond that, Ampaire CEO Kevin Nortker sees the potential for 30- or 50-seat hybrid electric regional airliners in the 2030s.

Ampaire said it would help customers find caravans to convert and estimated there were around 3,000 airframes in service worldwide that could be available for retrofitting. Nortker said he has spoken with airlines that have expressed interest in operating 1,000 or more green planes.

Ampaire will use its own facility at Hawthorne Airport near Los Angeles as well as a network of independent service providers to install the modification kits. These will include Air France Industries KLM Engineering & Maintenance, which in October signed a memorandum of understanding partner with Ampaire.

Underpinning the Eco Caravan’s powertrain is the A03 compression ignition engine, which manufacturer RED Aircraft says will produce 410kW as part of an integrated Ampaire parallel configuration with 160kW electric motors and battery packs. A German company which was announced as a program partner during the EAA AirVenture show in July, said its engine would provide twice the thermodynamic efficiency of a comparable turboprop engine. It is predicted that the net power of the transmission will be 570 kW, or 765 hp.

The electric motor will provide power as the aircraft takes off and climbs to cruising altitude, at which point the motor usually takes over. Depending on the operator’s mission requirements, the electric motors can be used for cruise or to recharge batteries that can otherwise be charged on the ground.

“In Ampaire’s integrated parallel hybrid-electric drivetrain architecture, the motors can either add torque to the drive shaft, resulting in increased motive power, or remove torque from the drive shaft, resulting in recharging the batteries like a generator. They don’t do both. at the same time,” Nortker explained. “During all phases of flight, half the combustion of the Ampaire hybrid system provides the base load. During takeoff and altitude, the batteries provide electricity to the engines, increasing the system’s total propulsion power. During cruise, the engines can optionally draw power from the propulsion system to charge the batteries like a generator” .

In September, Ampaire selected Electric Power Systems (EPS) to supply its Epic energy storage system for the Eco Caravan. According to EPS, its batteries will provide an energy density of 200 Wh/kg and will be able to operate for more than 2,000 quick charge cycles before needing to be replaced. The battery cells will be installed in the fairing of the aircraft body to save space for passengers and cargo.

Noertker hopes airlines, currently struggling to break even on some routes, will unlock their potential with hybrid-electric aircraft, even to the point of resuming some of the “atrophied” services that have been suspended. He also expects that communities that were previously unserved by air will now gain these connections.

The maximum range of the Eco Caravan is expected to exceed 1,000 miles. The all-purpose glider is also well-suited for airlift and many other missions, including medical emergencies.

Essentially, the hybrid-electric Eco Caravan promises a 50 to 70 percent reduction in fuel consumption, with greater savings on short trips. The engine will be able to run on environmentally friendly jet fuel and other Jet-A substitutes.

Given the expected lighter maintenance requirements compared to the existing Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 engine, Ampaire expects to provide airlines with direct operating cost savings of 25 to 40 percent. However, it has yet to release specific target costs per flight hour or seat mile for the Eco Caravan.

Nortker acknowledged that the war in Ukraine, which has continued since Russia invaded in late February, and its impact on global fuel supplies, has caught the attention of air carriers who may have remained complacent about the need for new energy sources. “We have seen a rethinking of fuel costs. I’ve been tracking the price of Jet-A and the rate of airline bankruptcies, and it’s a very scary correlation. I’d like to break that cycle, and it’s all to help people and communities,” he said AIN.

With hopes for further progress in areas such as batteries, Ampaire has declared itself agnostic about the available energy sources for future aircraft. Nortker said that by starting with a hybrid-electric approach, the company “addressed the technology risk [compared with starting with all-electric propulsion] and softened it to upgrade existing aircraft.” The fact that hybrid models such as the Eco Caravan can enter service using currently available fuel stocks, which can increasingly include SAF, also reduces the risks associated with complex recharging infrastructure.

“We use a crawl, walk, run approach, and so that’s where we start [conversions of] existing aircraft fleet and will then work with the OEMs to make the propulsion system standard for new aircraft,” Noertker said. “In 10, 20 and 30 years, there will be several of them [electric-powered] clean planes.”

One of them could be the Tailwind concept design that Ampaire has published on its website. The company hasn’t released any details on this design, which appears to have an intriguing ducted fan powerplant that wraps around the rear of the fuselage, and a few more ducted fans where the wing meets the top of the fuselage.

“Aviation is the hardest industry to decarbonize,” Noertker said. “All-electric aircraft have a limited range due to the weight and energy capacity of current generation batteries. Hybrid-electric aircraft, however, can maintain the range and utility of today’s aircraft. That’s why we’re focused on hybrid-electric engines for a series of increasingly capable regional aircraft. It’s a way for the airline to decarbonize faster and also benefit from lower operating costs.”

https://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/air-transport/2022-11-18/hybrid-electric-ampaire-eco-caravan-makes-first-flight Ampaire hybrid-electric eco-caravan made its first test flight

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