Solar-powered Sky Jeep transport aircraft for remote and rural makes first flight


A project developing a low-cost aircraft to be used in rural and remote communities in developing countries has taken a key step forward by conducting its first test flight in the UK.

NUNCATS (No Unnecessary Novelty Community Air Transport) is a non-profit organization based in Old Buckenham Airfield, Norfolk that has been building an electric “sky jeep” for the last three years. NUNCATS aims to provide cheap and sustainable transport to deliver doctors, teachers and medical supplies to remote communities across the world.

It’s sky jeep, which uses a battery-electric powertrain and is charged by solar panels on the ground, is based on a Zenith CH750 kit aircraft and flew for the first time on January 20.

NUNCATS plans to work with charities and NGOs to tap into existing networks of solar powered energy grids in remote towns and villages, so that the aircraft can fly between them delivering vital medical aid and attention.

The test flight is a significant step forward for the project and means any tweaks can now be made to speed up the production process, step up the trials and eventually see the plane take to the skies in life-saving missions.

NUNCATS is the brainchild of Tim and Helen Bridge, who founded the company in 2019 and began the project during the Covid lockdown.

The company has so far partnered with US Zenith Aircraft Company and several start-up investors but is looking for further funding to progress the project. Interested partners can learn more and contact NUNCATS via this website.

Over the last three years, they have modified the CH750 light-aircraft by replacing the petrol engine and fuel tanks with a battery-powered electric powertrain, supported by solar charging stations on the ground.

Tim Bridge said, “Nobody else is building electric aircraft in this way. Our aim is to provide a low-cost, rugged and practical aircraft for use in rural and hard-to-reach communities, such as medics in Uganda and doctors in rural India.

“It is great to see the plane in action. Our next stage is to find the money to complete the second plane and replicate this so we can get them into the field for testing.

“As soon as funding allows, we hope to move towards getting this into communities where it can make a real difference. There are currently a billion people in the world with no access to healthcare, 5,000 people will die because of that just today – this can be a genuine life-saver.”

The test flight was piloted by Captain Tim Kingsley, a pilot at Norwich-based air charter company SaxonAir, which is backing the project.

Kingsley said, “I’m very happy with how today went. It was cold out there, there was a bit of crosswind, but everything went really well.

“I’m delighted to be involved in this project and although it is still at its very early stages the vision is exciting. There’s nothing like this anywhere else in the world.

“I’ve seen first-hand the challenges some of these communities face and harnessing natural energy in such a way could make a real difference to so many people’s lives.”

Last year NUNCATS partnered with SaxonAir, the International Aviation Academy Norwich, Action Community Enterprises (ACE), East Coast College and Vattenfall to give young people aged 16 to 25 the opportunity to start building one of the aircraft at a free aviation summer school.

The ‘electric sky jeep’ kits can also be purchased as a greener option for sports flyers.

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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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