HAI Convention News

Li-ion Battery 'Tipping Point' Here, True Blue CEO Says

 - February 28, 2019, 9:00 AM
A True Blue Power TB17 Advanced Lithium-ion Battery under assembly at the company’s Wichita facility. Note the battery’s circuit board, which company officials call the battery management system that regulates a number of its operations including preventing overcharging, communicating faults within the battery and turning parts of it on and off. (Photo: Jerry Siebenmark)

It’s taken a decade, but True Blue Power (Booth C3413) president and CEO Todd Winter thinks the threshold has been crossed for broader industry acceptance of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. “The tipping point is now people are using [the technology],” Winter told AIN. “We’re delivering for...production aircraft. We know it works. They know it works. Now, it’s actually starting to become commonplace." 

He added a prediction, one that he said is "very safe" to make: "In the future, in virtually any area, any new aircraft delivered is going to have a lithium battery system on it."

The Li-ion batteries and emergency power supply units manufactured by True Blue, a division of Wichita-based Mid-Continent Instrument, have received type certification on eight new production rotor and fixed-wing aircraft—including the Bell 505 Jet Ranger X, Robinson R66, Airbus H135, Airbus H145 and Leonardo AW169—and supplemental type certification on more than 50 other airplanes and helicopters including the Robinson R44, Airbus EC130, and Airbus BK117. In addition, three of True Blue’s TB17 batteries come as standard equipment on the Tecnam P2012 Traveller, a high-wing twin piston-engine airplane that was certified by EASA in mid-December and awaits FAA certification.

“We didn’t just design one or two products and say, ‘OK, we’re done,’” Winter said. “We’ve continued. We’ve been developing new products as you see here. So we’re ready for the next generation to roll out.”

What that next generation of True Blue Li-ion battery products looks like, Winter isn’t saying just yet. He expects more details about that to be announced during Heli-Expo. The company currently produces the TB17 17 amp-hour and TB44 46 amp-hour Li-ion batteries, the former of which comes standard on the 505 and R66, and is STC'd on the R44 and EC130. Related products include the TS60 and TS835 Series Emergency Power Supply Li-ion batteries, as well as inverters, voltage converters, and USB charging ports.

Winter thinks industry acceptance of Li-ion batteries has been slow, though not unexpected, despite their smaller size and lower weight than conventional lead-acid batteries, ability to be recharged more quickly, longer life, and less maintenance. Even today, nearly 10 years after True Blue was launched, he said there are some inside the industry who don’t know how far the technology has come. Winter said at last year’s NBAA-BACE an engineer from a major jet manufacturer came over to True Blue’s booth and said another batter company was claiming that this kind of technology is not available. “It’s available,” Winter said. “It’s certified. We’re producing it. We’re delivering it today.”

As adoption of the batteries increases across the industry, Winter hopes the industry does the same with True Blue’s batteries, especially in the rotorcraft space. Rotorcraft is an important market for the company. “While difficult to quantify the significance the rotorcraft market has on True Blue Power’s future growth, it currently represents approximately 50 percent of our battery success to date,” he said.