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Why am I creating an electric aircraft?

Why am I creating an electric aircraft?

I am asked that often. Usually by my wife as it has been 2+ years and I am still not yet shipping electric aircraft. The answer is simple. I believe in it. Not at first, but after flying the electric Zigolo I know first hand how much better the ultralight experience is when the 2-stroke is gone and a smooth. clean, quiet electric fan is installed.

In previous blogs I have written in more detail about the benefits of electric power. In this blog I will write more about the near (I hope) future.

Quick summary: It is relatively easy to build an electric motor. There are already dozens of motors on the market  that will work. They are not optimal because they were never designed with aircraft power in mind but they can be made to work adequate enough. The elephant in the room issue is the battery energy density.

Aircraft require a lot of power. The engine is often set at a 75% power setting.  I will skip the math here as this is supposed to be a quick summary. Bottom line is that aircraft cannot carry enough batteries to fly with any comparable speed or endurance of the same aircraft with a gas engine. Not even close. Yet they cost more, if you can buy one at all. So why bother? Put noise-cancelling headsets on to enjoy the quiet.

Or fly an aircraft that has very low power requirements and has enough payload to carry some batteries. A self-launching electric motor-glider works. It does not require any power once aloft in thermalling conditions. Expect to pay $125k to $250k and expect powered endurance from 5 to 25 minutes. Fine if you enjoy the sport of soaring & gliding.

So how about an ultralight aircraft? They have been around for nearly 40 years and there are plenty of them on the market. They are light, slow, and don’t require a lot of power. Perfect for electric power right? Wrong. The UL rules as defined by the FAA Part 103 limit the gross weight to 254 lbs and the top speed to 55 knots. Apparently nearly every UL manufacture pushes these limits with as small a wing and as big an engine as they can squeeze into the weight and speed limits. I am not sure why. Even at 55 knots you are not buying an ultralight to go anywhere so why go nowhere fast? And the faster you go the more the bugs hurt when they smack your face.

IMHO, or at least for me I prefer flying an ultralight slow. I don’t need a full face helmet and my eyes don’t water and the bugs can out run me. Furthermore, I have a better chance of making a viable electric powered aircraft as slow flight requires less power.

Please read this excellent article just published in Powered Sport Flying:

Electric Power & UL Aircraft

Now you can see the real issues and why I am still putzing around working out a solution. Which I believe I now have and will prove it very soon. Here are the bullet points. I will leave the details for a future blog:

  • The Zigolo has a huge wing which results in a very low wing loading which then requires very low power to stay in the air. Low speed to but who cares?
  • The Zigolo has a very light airframe. It is only 220 lbs with the gas engine. This leaves a reasonable payload for batteries. Regardless of how the FAA interprets batteries as fuel or gallons as a volume measurement the Zigolo can be built with electric power and still remain inside the strict Part 103 weight limits. Perfectly legal.
  • Battery energy density continues to improve. I now have available battery cells with enough power to fly the Zigolo for the average sortie and even have some reserve (Another elephant in the room that has been completely ignored).
  • We choose a battery chemistry that has low volatility and a configuration that protects the cells. Safety is #1. And 60 lbs of battery torching off is a bit more catastrophic than 2 oz of Samsung lipo.
  • Along with my colleague we are finally finishing the production version of our aircraft specific electric motor. This is key for low noise and efficient operation.
  • We have even gone as far as to create an adjustable propeller to match our motor and optimize the trust efficiency.
  • The Zigolo now has wings that can be removed in under 2 minutes each. Perfect for low cost hangaring or training home.

So very soon you can buy a full-size, human carrying electric drone!!!!

Then all my efforts will have been worth it.





Chip W. Erwin
South Lakeland Airport
Lakeland, FL

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