More Electric Airplanes Are Coming

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Electrification isn’t limited to cars… or boats… or trains… it’s also coming to airplanes. Several companies are developing all-electric aircraft, with numerous electric and hybrid planes debuting just this summer.

Airbus Bird of Prey

Airbus Bird of Prey
Photo: Airbus

Airbus unveiled its large and somewhat terrifying Bird of Prey concept in July. This odd-looking plane would couple hybrid-powered propellers with feather-like extensions off the wing and tail. The Bird of Prey is not anywhere near production, but the European giant is developing several small flying cars, and is also considering making a hybrid version of its popular A320neo, a passenger plane in use around the world that can seat up to 240.

Ampaire Electric EEL

Ampaire Electric EEL
Photo: Ampaire

Los Angeles-based Ampaire has retrofitted older Cessna 337 Skymasters into a new plane called the Electric EEL. The EEL couples a front-mounted internal combustion engine with a new electric motor at the rear. As with terrestrial hybrids, this cuts operating costs and emissions, compared to using internal combustion engines alone. Mokulele Airlines will use the five-passenger planes for demonstration flights following commercial routes between the Hawaiian islands later this year while Ampaire awaits official FAA certification to allow full commercial service.

Eviation Aircraft Alice

An Israeli start-up named Eviation Aircraft debuted an all-electric, nine-passenger plane called the Alice at the Paris Airshow in June. The company claims it will have up to 650 nautical miles of range, and a cruising speed over 270 miles per hour. The price tag: $4 million. Cape Air, a regional airline from Massachusetts, has placed an order for more than 10 planes. The Alice is expected to start flying commercially in 2022.

Uber Air

Uber Electric Airplane
Photo: Uber

San Francisco ride-share behemoth Uber is developing a small, vertical-takeoff, all-electric plane it hopes to see in service by 2023. The craft will initially serve Dallas, Los Angeles and Melbourne, Australia, but later expand to other metro areas around the world. The company is working with Bell Helicopter, Boeing’s Aurora Flight Services, and a subsidiary of Brazilian aerospace giant Embraer, among others. It expects the craft to carry four passengers at speeds up to 200 miles-per-hour for flights of 60 miles or less. The craft will need a human pilot at first, but the company is aiming for it to become fully autonomous in time.

Wright Electric

Los Angeles-based Wright Electric is testing a range of hybrid and all-electric aircraft. This includes a 150-passenger plane meant for flights under 300 miles, which would work for markets like New York to Boston, or London to Paris. The company recently announced that it has begun wind tunnel testing.

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