Ampaire’s Eco Caravan, a nine-seat regional aircraft, made its first flight on a fully-integrated hybrid-electric propulsion system. The sortie 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.
The nine-seater took off from the Los Angeles-area Camarillo Airport at the end of last week. The first flight was 33 minutes in duration to make initial checks of the propulsion system.
After climbing to 3,500 feet (1,066 meters) at full power, the test pilot Elliot Seguin throttled back to a cruise setting, reducing the load on both the combustion engine and the electric engine. He spent roughly 20 minutes testing the aircraft‘s various power settings while studying temperatures and other readings before making a descent and final approach to Camarillo at a low-power setting.
“The Eco Caravan propulsion system performed just as expected,” said Seguin. “It was smooth and quiet. All temperature and power output readings were normal.”
The Eco Caravan reduces fuel consumption and emissions by up to 70%. The cost of operation is reduced by 25 to 40% depending on the airline route structure.
The hybrid-electric aircraft claims to fly farther than the Grand Caravan – more than 1,000 miles (1,609 km) – without compromising the payload. Its range and load-hauling capability are in marked contrast to proposed all-electric, hydrogen-electric, and even other hybrid-electric designs.
In addition, the aircraft can recharge its batteries in flight or at a charging station on the ground. According to Ampaire, this was necessary because charging infrastructure would be limited for some years. Therefore, the ability to operate independently of ground charging is critical for preserving the full utility of the Eco Caravan.
Ampaire expects the Eco Caravan to be the first electrified regional aircraft to enter commercial service and the first in a series of larger Ampaire hybrid-electric aircraft that will lead a transition to sustainable aviation.