Ampaire, the maker of a diesel/electric modification of the Cessna Caravan turboprop single, is making their case for the plane following its first flight this weekend. The flight from Southern California’s Camarillo Airport lasted 30 minutes, and according to the company, was intended to test the plane’s hybrid diesel/electric propulsion system, which is unlike any conventional aircraft.
The plane is powered by a diesel engine—details on the propulsion system are sparse—that charges the sizable battery bank located in the pod. The system allows the plane a range of 1,100 nm, according to Ampaire, at face value an improvement over the conventional turboprop propulsion system. While it will doubtless lower the payload of the Caravan, it leaves free the cabin, so within the payload of the plane, it could theoretically fill the seats. The company says that with eight passengers, the plane, which it calls the Eco-Caravan, has the same range as the original.
What few electric or hybrid aircraft companies talk about is speed versus power. How fast will the plane have to fly to get that 1,100 nm (we are assuming nautical miles here)? It will probably be a lot slower than the roughly 180 knots that Grand Caravan operators typically plan for. Again, details are sparse.
Ampaire does say that it is working with the FAA on a supplemental type certificate for the Eco-Caravan, which it is targeting for 2024—perhaps a realistic goal. At the same time, it says that it’s working on larger, more powerful propulsion systems, though it’s not clear what platforms those are intended for.
Like other makers of electric or electric/hybrids, Ampaire plays up the plane’s carbon neutrality, which it says is around 100 percent when using sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). (See our skeptical take on carbon neutrality here.)