Ampaire’s Eco Caravan, a nine-seat regional airliner, completed its first flight with a fully integrated hybrid-electric propulsion system. Ampaire anticipates it will be the first electrified regional aircraft to enter commercial service (certification in 2024) and the first in a line of Ampaire larger hybrid-electric aircraft. (Previous post.)
The Eco Caravan upgrades the standard Cessna Grand Caravan with Ampaire’s integrated compression ignition engine and electric motor propulsion system. A battery pack in a body panel preserves passenger and cargo capacity for the aircraft.
Earlier this year, Ampaire selected Electric Power Systems (EP Systems) to supply the traction battery pack for the Eco Caravan under an exclusive agreement.
The EPiC Energy storage system from EP Systems’ cell technology offers an energy density of more than 200 Wh/kg at the battery pack level and enables more than 2,000 quick charge cycles before replacement is required under typical use. The EPiC product series consists of modular building blocks that allow customization at the aircraft level.
Ampaire already has operational experience with EP Systems’ technology and flew a prototype of the EPiC system on its EEL electric test aircraft.
The Eco Caravan reduces fuel consumption and emissions by up to 70%. When using sustainable aviation fuel, the emissions are almost zero. Depending on the route structure of the airline, operating costs are reduced by 25 to 40 percent. The cost per available seat mile is close to the cost of travel.
Aviation is the most difficult industry to decarbonize. All-electric aircraft have a limited range due to the weight and energy capacity of current-generation batteries. However, hybrid electric aircraft can retain the range and utility of today’s aircraft. That’s why we’re concentrating on hybrid-electric drives for a range of increasingly powerful regional aircraft. It’s a way for the aviation industry to decarbonize faster and also benefit from lower operating costs.
– Ampaire CEO Kevin Noertker
In October, Ampaire announced a partnership with Air France Industries KLM Engineering and Maintenance (AFI KLM E&M) for a range of global maintenance and support activities. Also last month, Ampaire received an order for up to 50 Eco Caravans from MONTE, a financier of sustainable regional aviation technologies.
The first flight lasted 33 minutes to make initial checks of the propulsion system. The Eco Caravan climbed to 3,500 feet at full power, combining the power of the internal combustion engine and the electric motor. Test pilot Elliot Seguin then throttled back to a cruise setting, reducing the load on both power sources. He spent about 20 minutes testing different power settings while studying temperatures and other readings before descending on a low power setting and finally approaching Camarillo.
The hybrid electric aircraft maintains the range/payload capability of the Grand Caravan and can actually fly further than the Grand Caravan with eight passengers. The maximum range is over 1,000 miles. The range and load-carrying capability of the Eco Caravan stands in stark contrast to proposed all-electric, hydrogen-electric, and even other hybrid-electric designs.
The Eco Caravan can charge its batteries in flight or at charging stations on the ground. As charging infrastructure will be limited for a few years, the ability to operate independently of charging on the ground is critical to getting the Eco Caravan’s full utility, Ampaire said
The Eco Caravan’s propulsion technology is scalable to larger regional aircraft and ultimately to single aisle aircraft. Ampaire plans to introduce more powerful propulsion systems for larger aircraft.
Ampaire is already working with the FAA to certify the Eco Caravan under a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) in 2024. The Ampaire approach differs from others in that it does not require a full aircraft certification program, which can be time consuming and very expensive. The Grand Caravan is already FAA certified. Ampaire will certify it to fly with a new propulsion system.