Everything you need to know about electric planes. They exist, they fly, they are the future

Everything you need to know about electric planes. They exist, they fly, they are the future


Planes are the fastest way to get from point A to point B nowadays, it is the top of the whole transportation system. Thousands of flying machines are taking off every day, delivering people to their destination point.

However, due to their popularity, they do play not the last part in environmental damage as they produce a huge amount of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) — one of the main air pollutants on the planet. The cost of fuel for planes is also soaring. To minimize the danger from planes and get more profit, people are thinking about replacing such aircraft with electric ones creating first electric planes companies. However, is that really a good idea?

You will be able to answer this question after reading this article, in which we give acute and comprehensive information on electric planes that are going to be used more and more in the near future.

What are electric planes? Let’s be honest, before this article we didn’t even clearly know they existed

An electric plane is an aircraft powered by an electric motor. Some planes might have several of such motors to get enough power to fly.

Unlike electric cars and other ground vehicles, electricity is supplied not only by the battery, but also by other energy sources — for example, solar panels (solar cells) mounted directly on the wings.

As the planes are electric, in general, they are supposed to be cheaper to maintain and less pollute the environment.

Militky MB-E1 — the first electric manned aeroplane, it flew for 14 minutes. Photo: Mateusz Śliwka / Artstation.com

The brief history of electric planes

Apparently, electric planes are not an invention of our century. And even not of the previous one. So before we go on to explain how electric planes work and what kind they are, let's briefly look at the history of the development of this mode of transport.

  • The first flight of an electric-powered aircraft took place on 8 October 1833. The creator of such a machine was Gaston Tissandier, a French meteorologist and aviator.
  • More than a century later, in 1973, Fred Militky and Heino Brditschka sent a Militky MB-E1 into the air. This was already a real plane with high energy storage, which allowed it to fly for 14 minutes using only its own energy. This made it the first plane to fly on its own power and also with a person aboard.
  • A new stage of the history of the electric plane began in the 1990–2000s when commercial companies got interested in them. Businessmen found out that such aircraft are environment-friendly, light, and less resource-intensive, which is great not only for private trips but also for recon operations. The first mass-produced aircraft was a one-seat Alisport Silent Club with 13kW, which was released in 1997.
  • In 2010, the longest flight of an electric plane was recorded. An unmanned aircraft named QinetiQ Zephyr was in the air for two weeks, getting power from the sun to charge its lithium-sulfur batteries.
  • In 2017, a modified plane Extra EA-300 reached the speed of around 340 km/h (210 mph) over 3 km (1.9 mi), which was the highest speed of such vehicles recorded. The flight was arranged by Siemens.

In the last four years, at the same time as electric cars and other transport, electric planes have been developing even more strongly with more and more new models appearing on the market (we will name the main ones later). Airplanes fly longer, faster, they are lighter and more durable.

BRM Aero Energic electric plane by the H55 company from Switzerland / H55

How do electric planes actually work? Surely, they are different from the cars, bikes, and scooters we ride

Electric planes are first and foremost airplanes. Their principle of operation differs primarily in the source of energy that makes the planes fly. As we already know, electricity for planes can be supplied by a variety of methods. This is also the main principle of their classification.

The most common energy sources for electric planes are batteries or solar cells. But there are other types of electric planes.

Electric planes powered by batteries

The batteries, however, are mostly used due to their high efficiency. The latest lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries — the same as in your laters smartphone and a laptop — provide 250–300 Wh/kg, which is pretty sufficient for small planes.

The exploitation of such an energy source is also pretty cheap. For example, a 300 kWh battery of a Harbour Air Beaver costs around $24 to charge. Supplying an engine for such an aircraft would cost around $160.

Electric planes with solar cells

The solar cells, on the other hand, are more environment-friendly and can be used longer than batteries. The power they provide is lower — around 150–200 watt / sq m. Solar cells should also have to be connected to give more electricity.

Nevertheless, their use is justified as the solar models are decreasing in cost and their efficiency is increasing with new versions. Another advantage is that aircraft equipped with solar cells can fly without landing because they get energy directly from the sun.

Hybrid electric planes: electricity and fuel

To get the best result from these power sources, people developed hybrid-electric aircraft. These are planes that are not pure electric, but also fly using aviation fuel. This way companies spend less money on fuel, pollute the environment less, and don’t have to totally rebuild aircraft.

The first flight of such a machine took place on 8 June, 2011. The Boeing Truss-Braced Wing, a 100-seater airliner, reduced fuel consumption by 25 % using a 70 kilowatt (kW) electric motor from Siemens. Nowadays several projects and companies, for example, HASTECS, Rolls-Royce Dahlewitz, MTU Aero Engines are still developing hybrid planes, some of which are being tested now. Hopefully, we can see such planes in the future casually taking off every day.

Electric planes with other energy sources

There are also less used power sources like fuel cells, supercapacitors (ultracapacitors), and microwaves (no, not kitchen gadgets). They are not widely implemented due to their high cost, lack of research and knowledge, and lower efficiency. They still need to be researched and adjusted to our reality.

Who knows, maybe they will be better electricity sources than those that we have now.

Avel Chuklanov / Unsplash

Where to find the weather forecast for personal light aircraft aviation in the Windy.app? It has to be there

Yes, it is. In the Windy.app, you can learn about the best possible conditions for your current (and future electric) planes thanks to the special Air Weather Profile and an Aerological Diagram.

Air Weather Profile

The profile includes a preset of ready-to-use weather parameters that will help you plan better flights:

  • First of all, with this profile, you can learn about wind speed and wind direction, as well as atmospheric pressure on different heights: from 110 m (361 ft) to 1950 m (6,398 ft), which might be useful because the values change as you’re getting higher.
  • Secondly, there is also a 10 day weather forecast for relative humidity, cloud base, precipitation and dew point base. You just need to choose the best time for your activity.

Weather forecast for the light aircraft aviation for San Francisco International Airport in the Air Weather Profile in the Windy.app for iOS

How to activate Air Weather Profile

1. Open your favorite spot or the nearest one to your current location from the Home Screen of the app or the Weather Map.

2. Choose Air Weather Profile by an icon to the right of the Weather Models slider under the Wind Rose.

3. Get the weather forecast for your air activity from the table by moving the Wind bar to the left and right.

Read mini guide to air sports using Air Weather Profile in the Windy.app.

Aerological Diagram

Another incredibly useful tool in the Windy.app for those who do air sports is Aerological Diagram or Skew-T log-P Diagram — a thermodynamic chart that displays data on air at different altitudes. In particular, the diagram depicts air temperature, dew point, and wind.

Aerological diagram or Skew-T log-P Diagram using to forecast clouds in Murmansk, Russia, in the Windy.app for Android

How to activate Aerological Diagram

At the moment, the function is only available in the Android version. You can find it in the spot screen menu in the Windy.app version for Android.

Learn about Aerological Diagram in the Windy.app blog.


Text: Ilia Ponomarev, a linguist and translator from Dzerzhinsk, Nizhny Novgorod Oblast, Russia. His favorite sports are cycling and hiking. Ivan Kuznetsov contributed to this article

Cover photo: Michel Paz / Unsplash

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