Ampaire Inc has completed the first test flight of the Ampaire 337, which it says is the highest capacity hybrid electric aircraft ever flown. On 6 June Ampaire engineers, investors and journalists witnessed the Ampaire 337 fly in the skies above Camarillo Airport, California.
Ampaire's 337 is built with a direct path towards commercialisation, moving electric aviation from the futuristic to the attainable. It is based on the six-seat Cessna 337 Skymaster, retrofitted with Ampaire's proprietary electric propulsion system powered by a lightweight battery system. The battery-powered electric motor replaces the combustion engine of the aircraft's original two-engine configuration and the resulting system is a 'parallel hybrid', meaning the internal combustion engine and electric motor work in concert to optimise power output as the plane flies. In hybrid configuration, the aircraft sees significant greenhouse gas emissions savings and operating cost reductions. The experimental plane was flown by a test pilot and flight engineer.
“Given the urgency of the climate crisis, today's historic flight not only signifies a huge step forward for aviation, it also shines a light on Los Angeles's leadership in transportation electrification,” says Matt Petersen, CEO of Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI). “As a LACI portfolio company, Ampaire and its Ampaire 337 flight test programme further proves that Los Angeles is a cleantech hub that attracts investment and game-changing innovation for climate solutions.”
Kevin Noertker, CEO of Ampaire, says: “Imagine that in just a few years you will be able to buy a ticket for a flight that is clean, quiet and inexpensive. Ampaire is proud to lead the aviation industry in transportation electrification, and we recognise the importance of electric aviation for climate change and community connectivity.”
Ampaire has mapped a path from today's first test flight of a prototype to commercial operations in 2021. The test flight followed the Federal Aviation Administration May 2019 airworthiness approval to begin a flight test programme. The test flights will see the aircraft fly multiple times each week from June through August 2019 and will gather data about the electric propulsion performance characteristics.
“Flight is becoming electric and this is the most incredible team to make that happen. Ampaire's approach is one of the many reasons we chose to support it through our accelerator programme,” says Van Espahbodi, co-founder and managing director of Starburst Accelerator. “We see tremendous potential in its business model, and we're excited to see it achieve this significant technical milestone."
In late 2019, Ampaire will begin a pilot project on a commercial route on the Hawaiian island of Maui. The aircraft will be a newly retrofitted Cessna 337 built using knowledge from the test flight programme that will inform the configuration of the battery and motor. This aircraft will be a pre-production prototype and will move Ampaire closer to commercial readiness.
Ampaire's focus is on supplying aircraft to regional airlines who typically fly short-haul, often serving remote communities and island regions. In addition to the upcoming pilot project in Maui, Ampaire is also in collaboration with Vieques Air Link (VAL), a regional airline in Puerto Rico, to establish a pilot project in the region. Alongside Mokulele Airlines and VAL, Ampaire has signed letters of interest with 14 other airlines across the world.