Oof. It’s been a trying 18 months. No new news re the FAA petition, however PBS Nova ran a super interesting story about electric aviation called “The Great Electric Airplane Race” and Joseph and the SAP effort is featured! Check it out:
Well, we have finally made it to the public comment period
starting point for our petition for exemption!!! The link below provides a notice that the
petition will be posted to the Federal Register tomorrow, 12/9/2019.
Thank you to all our supporters for sticking with us as we
have moved through the regulatory process with the FAA for these aircraft! Now we ask that you thoughtfully consider
providing supporting comments for the petition!
After 17 months of testing and validation work, we have submitted our petition for exemption to recertify the four Alpha Electros to SLSAs so they can be used in normal flight training operations!!! The 12-page petition took months of work to prepare and was a huge team effort! In fact, the file was so large that it exceeded the maximum 10 MB limit of the Department of Transportation servers in Washington D.C., and the final document had to be sent by FedEx.
Special thanks to our city partners, the City of Mendota and the City of Reedley, for their support and patience with the process of working through the FAA regulatory procedures and data collection needed to support this petition!!
Now, we are told the process for review and final determination within the FAA can take up to 120 days and, at some point, there will be a public comment period through the Federal Register. Once we have details on this comment period, we will send notice through this blog and our email list of supporters for you to submit your support for the petition.
Thanks for all your support and encouragement so far and we will provide as many updates as possible as the FAA review process proceeds!!
New Vision Aviation (NVA) is excited to announce that we have leased a 2013 Pipistrel Alpha Trainer to allow us to start providing flight training this month while we are still working to get the Alpha Electros approved for normal training activities. The aircraft is from Minnesota and it has taken several months working with the owner to get it here to California. The plane has had the required Rotax 5-year hose replacement done, GRS parachute re-packed, new brakes installed, and complete annual inspection prior to coming to join our program. With only about 500 hours total time on the aircraft, it will make an ideal companion to the four Alpha Electros and allow for longer cross-country flights. Rental rate is planned to be $105 per hour wet to New Vision Aviation members. Membership in NVA is available starting this weekend, 4/13/2019, and you can contact Joseph Oldham at josepholdham4870h at gmail dot com for details on membership requirements and dues.
We ask for your patience as we continue to move forward to get our website fully functional; we are working hard to bring lower cost flight training to residents and youth in the San Joaquin Valley!!
For those of
you that have been following our project for some time, you know that we have
always talked about a flight training operation that would eventually lease the
Alpha Electros from the City of Mendota and City of Reedley so they could be
used to train youth, veterans, and residents of Fresno County. Well, over the past 6 months, as we have been
doing validation testing of the Alpha Electros, a group of us here in Fresno
have formed a 501c3 non-profit corporation, New Vision Aviation, to operate,
maintain, and provide flight training services using the Alphas in addition to
other gas-powered aircraft. We are
working on getting the website up, but have all of our paperwork filed and
accepted with both the State of California and the IRS. Our logo was developed by some very creative
high school students in Fresno and we have done one ground school with plans to
offer a second one starting the first week of January that will include three
high school students from the community around Chandler. Our ground school is free to the students
except the cost of the book because our instructors are donating their time to
the project for the twelve-week course.
Aviation will be offering sport pilot training for the students and now that
the FAA has allowed Sport Pilot dual instruction to count toward higher ratings
such as private and commercial as per the regulatory relief ruling on July 27,
2018, this training will be more valuable as an entry level step for new people
coming into aviation. Below is a photo
of a young man from the neighborhood around Fresno Chandler Executive Airport
that we have seen aviation make a huge difference in his life. He started flight training when he was in
high school and now is in his second year at Fresno State University majoring
in Engineering! He has a job and is
helping his single mother with expenses as he is able while still attending
college full time. He will tell you that
his flight training experience has helped him focus and have goals for
achievement well beyond those of his peers.
Aviation’s goal is to duplicate this success at raising the expectations of
youth from disadvantaged communities many times over by providing a more
affordable path to an aviation career!
Many of us have
donated significant resources to help get New Vision Aviation going. In fact, the Luscombe 8A that you see in the
photo above is part of my personal investment in the program with plans to
offer tailwheel training in it for interested youth and residents. As a long-time taildragger pilot, I know how
valuable tailwheel training is in making a good pilot, so New Vision is
planning to offer that training early in the curriculum to get students using
the rudder and landing with the proper nose-up attitude.
Now, I would
like to ask your help as we work on getting New Vision Aviation successfully
providing flight training services. We
have about $62,000 in near term expenses that we need help covering which
include insurance for the Alpha Electros and gas Alpha Trainer at $30,000 for
an annual policy covering all five aircraft for a year, hangar expenses of
about $14,000 for the large hangar that we hope to continue to use for the
program, office equipment and rental of about $3,000, and student training
assistance scholarships of about $15,000.
If you are able to help in any way toward this goal, please reach out
and let us know, or you can just send a tax-deductible donation to:
New Vision Aviation 510 W. Kearney Blvd., Suite 104 Fresno, CA 93706
Your help will
be greatly appreciated and you will be opening opportunities for young people
that otherwise could not see themselves in an aviation career! Thank you in advance!
We have achieved 100 hours of endurance testing to support our petition!!
Last week on the 25th, I reached 100 hours of endurance testing on N197AM, serial number 878 AE 60! This milestone is significant since it is the amount of testing on a single aircraft that we need to prove the planes comply with ASTM standard F2840-14 for electric power plants in aircraft. Now that we have successfully proved the aircraft meets that standard, we are in the correct position to finalize our petition for exemption request to the FAA to recertify the aircraft to Special Light Sport category so that we can begin normal flight training operations with them.
Our plan is to formally submit the petition to the FAA in November and then the process takes about 120 days to complete. There will be a public comment period at some point during the process and we will be notifying all of you that have been monitoring our progress through this blog on how to participate and send in your comments supporting our petition. Stay tuned…
It has been a challenging summer, but we are on track!
The heat has been a challenge with operating the Alpha Electros this summer, but we have come up with some creative solutions that have allowed us to continue accruing hours toward our goal of 100 hours on one aircraft to support our petition for exemption with the FAA. We currently have over 70 hours across all four aircraft and over 50 hours on N197AM that was chosen to be the plane for the endurance testing for the petition.
The heat issues began to show themselves when ambient temperatures in Fresno started to get above 90 degrees F. Our initial concern was the battery temperature, but we also found a limiting factor was the temperature of the power controller, as Pipistrel refers to it. It is the device than converts the electric power from the batteries and provides it to the electric motor. It is liquid cooled using a small radiator mounted just below the motor. The same radiator provides cooling for the motor, but the temperature limits for operation of the motor are higher than the power controller. We found it was possible to have the power controller overheat quickly doing touch and goes on days when ambient temperature was over 90 degrees F. The solution was to use less power on take-off and for climbing during cruise operations. We found early on that it is possible to take-off at 40 kW vs. 65+kW at full gross weight and still climb at about 500 ft. per minute. We also learned the planes would climb slowly at 23 kW during cruise vs. 40 kW. By running less amperage through the power controller, the temperatures stayed lower, even on high ambient temperature days. We have tested this procedure over many days at 100+ degrees F and it works, so it has become our standard operating procedure on high ambient temperature days.
Another issue that arose during these hot days was the battery temperatures would exceed 40 C when charged in the hot hangar. Once the batteries were hot, they took over-night to cool back down and that limited the number of flights you could get to about 1-2 per day per aircraft. Clearly that was not going to work. The solution was to air condition the batteries during charging. I was able to find a small 6,100 btu rated spot air conditioner designed for cooling computer servers on Amazon for about $500. I had some clear Lexan windows cut to fit the openings in the battery compartments with a hole for a flange to attach dryer ducting and then used a “plastic tee” to split the air flow from the A/C unit to cool both batteries packs at the same time. The A/C unit puts out about cooled air at about 17 C that then circulates around the battery packs during charging. If the charging is done right after a flight, the automatic cooling fans on each pack turn on to draw the cooled air in even faster. The end result is we are able to cool the battery packs during charging so they are less than ambient temperature by the time the charging cycle is complete. This allows for another flight immediately after charging. We are now about to get about 4 flights per day per aircraft. Below is a photo of the A/C unit in action:
The A/C system is not optimized and we are going to work on building better adapter fittings for the battery compartment openings to have better air seals, but it works for now and we will refine it this winter when we won’t need the cooling.
Finally, we have been steadily trying to get more time aloft with the planes as we continue our testing and validation work. This past week due to some collaboration with other pilots interested in our work, we were able to get 1 hour of flight time on a charge and still land over 20% State of Charge. The procedure involves using the 40 kW take-off procedure, but when leveling off in cruise, we are trimming the planes for best L/D speed of 64 kts and setting the power for 14 kW with a single pilot. We have flown the aircraft for over 59 nm in this mode and achieved an impressive 3.62 nm/kWh fuel economy. When you convert that to statue miles per kWh to compare with an electric car, it equals 4.16 miles per kWh which is more than my Chevy Volt!
That is all for now, but if you would like to come and see the aircraft in operation, we will be doing some flight demonstrations at Fresno Chandler Executive Airport on September 29, 2018 as part of the 2018 “Remember When Fly-in and Car Show” sponsored by the Central Valley Aviation Association. Gates open at 9 am for the public and pilots are invited to bring their aircraft for display. Display aircraft should plan to arrive by 8:30 am at the latest. Event ends at 4 pm.
Sorry for taking so long to update everyone on our project; it has been an amazing several months since we took delivery of our four Alpha Electros and started flying them!
Here are some of the highlights:
We have accumulated about 40 hours of flight time across all four aircraft to date. They are a dream to fly with little to no vibration, nearly silent operation from the ground perspective, smooth power application, and very response handling.
We have two airports set up with chargers currently; Fresno Chandler Executive (KFCH) and Reedley Municipal (O32). Flight operating limitations from the FAA restrict us from doing traffic pattern work at Chandler, so we use Reedley for that. There is currently an aircraft based at Reedley and three at Chandler and we are routinely flying back and forth between the two airports.
Mendota recently got a charger circuit set up and we plan to have a charger placed there by early July so we can start doing flight operations to Mendota.
Everyone asks me about how long you can stay up on a charge, which is a very reasonable question. The answer is about 40 minutes and still land with over 20% State of Charge (SOC) remaining in the batteries. The 20% SOC level is what Pipistrel recommends as a minimum for landing. Below 20% SOC, the SOC bar on the EPSI570 (see photo below) turns red and you need to land and recharge the aircraft.
Our Alpha Electros have arrived!! On the morning of March 13, 2018 at about 8:40 am, two 40 foot shipping container trucks rolled through the gate at Fresno Chandler Executive Airport with our four (4) Pipistrel Alpha Electros, four chargers, and a Pipistrel simulator destined for a customer in L.A. It took a crew of five to six about 2 hours to remove the aircraft and chargers from the trucks. We had to use a flatbed tow truck to back up to the containers so that we could roll the planes and chargers out. One plane had a flat tire and damaged main gear wheels due to loosening of the bolts that held the plane wheels to a steel bracket that was screwed to the container floor. One other plane had similar wheel damage from the same cause. It took about 10 minutes per plane to install the wings and horizontal stabilizers; the way Pipistrel designed the planes makes installation of the wings an easy process.
Michael Coates, the U.S. distributor for Pipistrel, and Sabi Apai, the Pipistrel dealer for California were on hand to help guide the process and were a great help! The planes had been at sea in the containers for 3 months and yet, the batteries were still at from 43% to 53% State of Charge when we inspected them. All aircraft were charged to the recommended 60-65% rest SOC the next day.
New wheel assemblies are being shipped from the factory tomorrow to replace the ones damaged in transport. The aircraft are scheduled for their airworthiness inspections on Wednesday, March 21. They are insured and registered, so once the airworthiness inspections are complete, we will make plans for the first flights. A brief taxi test was done on 3/18/18 to get the photo below in front of the historic Terminal Building at KFCH. Stay tuned for more updates in the coming days…
Largest concentration of Alpha Electro aircraft in the world (for now)!
Our Alpha Electros are on their way to the U.S.! Just before Christmas all four of our Alpha Electros were completed and test flown at the factory. They were then loaded in two containers and shipped to the U.S. Below are some photos of two of the planes at the factory going through flight testing before they were loaded in the shipping containers.
Michael Coates, the U.S. distributor for Pipistrel, had requested the aircraft be shipped direct to California, but the shipper had other ideas. Instead of coming from Italy west across the Atlantic and through the Panama Canal to California, the ship is going east through the Suez Canal, across the Indian Ocean to Port Kalang, Malaysia, then to Hong Kong, and finally to California. The current estimate is the planes will arrive on the West Coast around the end of February and be delivered to Fresno around March 4. Our planes are taking a world tour before coming to Fresno, but at least they are on their way! Stay tuned for more updates…