GreenWing International is preparing to market the eSpyder electric airplane in the U.S., first as an amateur-built kit then as a factory-built light sport aircraft (LSA). U.S. production of the eSpyder is expected to begin later this year. The eSpyder was certified in Germany in February and is based on the Flightstar Spyder ultralight airframe.
“We believe this is the first time a national authority has certified an electric airplane,” said company CEO Tian Yu, who is also founder of electric motor and systems manufacturer Yuneec. Both GreenWing and Yuneec are exhibiting at EAA AirVenture, and there are three eSpyders at the show. One is at the GreenWing booth north of Phillips 66 Square (406/417) and two will be flying demonstrations from the ultralight runway.
While Yuneec has exhibited electric-powered airplanes at AirVenture since 2009, GreenWing has taken on the airplane manufacturing side of the business, using Yuneec-made electric motors and systems. Eric Bartsch, a long-time friend of Tian Yu and president and founder of Chanute Consulting Group, is helping get GreenWing running. “[He] has asked me to help as this transitions from research and development to a fully functional business,” Bartsch said. “I’ve joined the program on a temporary basis to help with that transition. GreenWing is a separate company, but closely aligned with Yuneec and all GreenWing aircraft will be powered by Yuneec.” GreenWing is headquartered at Cable Airport in Upland, Calif.
GreenWing has not released pricing information for the eSpyder kit or the factory-built version. The latter model is awaiting new ASTM standards for electric LSAs, which were finalized earlier this year but not yet adopted by the FAA, according to Bartsch. “I don’t perceive any significant barriers other than time to get those adopted,” he said. “We’re ready to get the eSpyder into the market.”
The single-seat eSpyder is powered by a 24-kilowatt electric motor, equivalent to 32 hp. The 13-kilowatt Yuneec battery pack uses lithium-ion (polymer) batteries with protection circuitry. Yuneec also makes the motor controller system.
The eSpyder can carry about 220 pounds of payload. Takeoff weight is 620 pounds, and the only payload is the pilot and anything carried in the airplane. “The weight of the plane when the tank is full or empty is exactly the same,” Bartsch said. With a stall speed of 28 mph and cruise from 35 to 60 mph, the eSpyder can stay aloft for one hour (with a 30-minute reserve) and is intended for local recreational flights. Fast charging can be done in about two hours.
“It is a fun plane to fly,” Bartsch said. “The thing that’s really different is how quiet they are. [Flying] at 1,000 feet agl, I could hear trucks on the ground, beeping and backing up. It’s a whole different sensation, not to have the distraction of a powerplant. I’m a glider pilot, and that’s fairly quiet, but you’re never cruising near the ground. I’ve never experienced being able to cruise and not being distracted by the powerplant, the noise, the vibration. You can take in your surroundings; you can hear other traffic near the airport. It’s a really neat experience.”
The other key advantage of the eSpyder is that its quiet operation should make it attractive to noise-sensitive airport neighbors. Bartsch was standing next to the runway as an eSpyder took off and could hear the test pilot. “He was at 70 feet, and he yelled at us and we heard him. The ability to operate in noise-sensitive environments is going to be a game changer, particularly in Europe. I think electric flying can help general aviation be a better neighbor.”
The next project for GreenWing is the e430 two-seater, an all-composite electric airplane with an enclosed cabin and endurance of more than two hours. “That has been flown in prototype form,” he said, “and the conforming version is coming together. Our goal is to have that in the market in 2014.”