AirVenture's Electric Revolution: Cessna & Bye Energy

Bye Energy and Cessna are bringing electric aircraft into the mainstream.  More Cessna 172 Skyhawks have been built than any other civil aircraft and soon they may come with an electric hybrid option.  Cessna & Bye Energy have partnered on a proof of concept Skyhawk that should have its first flight before year's end. Long term goals include a certified electric Skyhawk and conversions of existing aircraft.  Let’s put the conversion aspect into perspective: (1) over 43,000 Skyhawks have been built and (2) the entire aviation community is looking for alternatives to leaded fuels.  The opportunities are huge. The Bye Energy/Cessna partnership is a great combination of talent.  George Bye is a serial aviation entrepreneur.  He is joined at Bye Energy by a seasoned team of executives, including past Cessna President and Chief Operating Officer, Charlie Johnson. Charlie & George have worked together on prior projects combining their vision, leadership, and manufacturing expertise. Cessna brings to the table an incredibly popular aircraft with the greatest production history in the industry.  The power plant change would result in only minor changes to the controls, making this new aircraft feel familiar to many. The combination is one of synergy.  Cessna’s Chairman, President, and CEO Jack J. Pelton is quoted in the press release as saying,
As we look at the landscape of alternative fuels for general aviation aircraft, the electric power plant offers significant benefits, but there are significant challenges to get there. We believe Bye Energy has gotten off to a good start in understanding those challenges and how to overcome them.

I had had the chance to sit with George Bye, Charlie Johnson, and Cessna’s Bob Stangarone this afternoon.  (And yes, to have my picture taken in a brand-new (conventionally-powered) 172 with George).   Some take-aways:
  • “Engineering with safety & certification in mind.”  This collaboration isn’t about just a proof of concept.  The companies are in it for the long haul.
  • “Any one of the storage units could fly the aircraft.”  As I understand it, if there were to be a problem with one of the cells of the battery system, any single piece of the system could still power the aircraft.
  • The initial approach is a hybrid plug-in.  Their expectations are 2 hours on the electric portion of the power plant and another 2 hours of extended range from the auxiliary power unit.  They are designing with technical improvements in mind and the system will be upgradable.
For more technical background, please see the CAFE Foundation’s post, the recent press release, and the FAQ page from Bye Energy.

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