Ampaire hybrid-electric EEL aircraft completes first flight tests in the UK


US-company Ampaire’s hybrid-electric EEL aircraft has successfully completed a series of flights on a route between the Orkney Isles and John O’Groats in Scotland as part of a research program to assess the viability of the technology on a commercial route.

The flights between Kirkwall Airport in Orkney and Wick John O’Groats Airport on the mainland were the first time a hybrid-electric aircraft have been operated on a commercial regional airline route in the UK. The week-long trials are part of the UK Government-funded Sustainable Aviation Test Environment (SATE) project.

SATE is being run from Kirkwall Airport, which is also home to the UK’s first low-carbon aviation test center. SATE is testing different types of low-carbon aircraft to identify the next generation of air services and the airport infrastructure necessary to support sustainable aviation.

Ampaire test pilot Justin Gillen said, “Today’s flight to Wick went without a hitch, flying at 3,500ft and 120mph. The Electric EEL is easy to fly and we’ve achieved a total five hours here so far.”

The EEL aircraft being used for the flight test program is a six-seat Cessna 337, modified with a hybrid-electric propulsion system – an electric motor in the nose and traditional combustion engine in the rear. It is Ampaire’s second flight test aircraft and was moved to the UK from California in April.

According to Ampaire its hybrid electric powertrain can reduce emissions and operating costs by as much as 25%.

Ampaire was recently acquired by subsciption-based private charter company Suf Air, and is working with Cessna to produce 150 Grand Caravan EX aircraft which will use its hybrid-electric powertrain and be operated  by Surf Air in the USA from 2024. The order is the largest for hybrid-electric aircraft to date.

Ampaire’s founder and CEO Kevin Noertker said, “This is an important first step to decarbonizing Scottish regional aviation, while lowering the cost of air service. “It’s a model for what Ampaire will be able to offer regional carriers everywhere.”

Electric EEL aircraft

The electric EEL aircraft is being trialled on commercial regional routes in the UK for the first time

Lorna Jack, chair of Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL), which is leading the consortium of companies involved in SATE said, “The SATE project is a very important collaboration for HIAL. Our involvement means we can support innovative projects from our partners to achieve a shared goal, decarbonize our operations and deliver environmentally sustainable aviation.

“It is very exciting to see this technology being tested for the first time in Scotland and we are proud that Kirkwall airport is the hub for this and future SATE projects.”

The EEL aircraft is being transported to South West England next week, where it will perform further demonstration flights between Exeter and Cornwall as part of the Ampaire-led 2ZERO (Towards Zero Emissions in Regional Aircraft Operations) project.

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Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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