Ultralight Aircraft Engines: It’s Electric!

Many companies are developing electric powered ultralight aircraft engines, because in many cases the power of the aircraft is secondary.  Most of these types of planes can glide considerable distances without using engines at all.

Ultralight Aircraft Engine Advantage 

Because electric engines are much smaller than piston engines, an electric motor in an ultralight aircraft engine offers the best advantage simply due to its size.  Electric engines are smaller, and contain no reciprocating parts.  These smaller engines  provide between one and five hours flying time, and some reach a cruising speed of up to 52 knots.

Electric Power vs. Liquid Fuels 

In order for an aircraft to fly, whether powered by a traditional or ultralight aircraft engine, the propeller must produce enough thrust and acceleration to reach lift-off speed and cruising altitude. The fuel used is of secondary importance.  However, electric engines require heavy battery storage during flight, and this can create a weight issue in ultralight aircraft.  In addition, recharging takes considerably longer than refueling.  Some electric engines take more than 100 hours to recharge, while refueling takes mere minutes.  There are experiments being conducted on solar or voltaic cells on very lightweight aircraft, but they are far from being market-ready.

Hybrid Electric Engines 

Some ultralight aircraft engine manufacturers have developed electric hybrids that use both electric and fuel to power the engine.  Fuel consumption in these ultralight aircraft is much lower since the engine runs with a constantly low output.  Recharging occurs during the cruising phase and the battery provides increased power during take-off and climb.

There have been considerable improvements in electric powered ultralight aircraft engines, but the use of this type of engine remains limited to small, glider-type aircraft.  Because larger aircraft have higher energy requirements, today’s electric engines are not suitable to power them as well as liquid fueled engines.  Among the world’s leading maintenance, repair and overhaul facilities, Covington Aircraft specializes in PT6A turbine, R-985 and R-1340 radial engines and accessories.  Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn to join the conversation about electric ultralight aircraft engines.

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4 thoughts on “Ultralight Aircraft Engines: It’s Electric!

  1. Motors, gentlepersons, MOTORS. ‘Engines’ develop power directly from a fuel source. Power generated by energy from already ”processed’ fuel e.g. coal to electricity is accomplished by a motor. And yes ‘steam engine’ is also a misnomer, I believe.

    In a hybrid the engine generates electricity to power the motor which propells the vehicle, whatever vehicle one is operating.

  2. 100 hours? Try 6-8 hours for a recharge, with some able to do it in just one hour. That’s much more typical of today’s battery technology. Battery Quick Swapping could make flight training in the future, faster, cheaper, easier, quieter, safer, and more environmentally friendly.

  3. For the longest time I wanted to have the workspace and checkbook for a nice li’ll experimental project. . . Much like a birds bone made of a thin material shell supported by the webs of many cells, I would construct an all carbon fiber airframe glider. However with the addition of an electrically driven furling prop/nosecone motor frame powered by ultra light supercaps charged by photovoltaic cells wrapping the top surfaces.

    This article further prompts the question for myself that the design may one day be able take off under its own power with a landing gear of sorts to keep the nose up.

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