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Florida Tech First to Fly Electric Plane

As the focus on climate change and electric transportation increases, Florida Tech has acquired an electric plane to allow for hands-on learning and research on a new and timely aspect of aviation.This month, Florida Tech became the only university in the United States to own and fly an electric plane. The Velis Electro, a light aircraft from Pipistrel, was introduced last year. The first electric-powered airplane certified in Europe, it has a maximum speed of 113 mph, zero emissions, an engine with a noise level of 60 decibels, and a body made of composite materials. The engine is quieter than a single-engine Cessna 172 at 85 decibels, an aircraft commonly used for training.The two-seater has not been flown in the United States until now. While the aircraft awaits U.S. certification, Florida Tech is flying it under the "experimental" category. Isaac Silver, Florida Tech alumnus and former associate dean, was the pilot for the inaugural flight. He flew for 22 minutes, using about a third of the aircraft's battery capacity and creating an operating cost of only $1.03."While we can teach students flight test techniques using older aircraft, having them test an airplane with the latest technology prepares them for contemporary designs," said Brian Kish, Flight Test Engineering program chair and aerospace associate professor.The next step is in getting to know the plane to log significant flight time. That's to the benefit of the university and another interested group: the Federal Aviation Administration, which is in the process of awarding Florida Tech an $85,000 contract to provide data from the first 50 flight hours of the Velis Electro. Kis said the first thing the team will do in the early flights is ensure they're getting the performance that the plane's manual says it should give. The team will test the different power settings during the plane's cruising period."There's different speeds, whether you use 20 kilowatts, up to 36 kilowatts for cruising, obviously the more power you should go a little faster," said Kish. "So, we're going to spot check all those cruise settings and see what airspeed we get and see how long the battery charge lasts."The electric plane made it to the university through a research relationship between Florida Tech, Georgia Tech and the FAA. As part of the work, university researchers were made aware of the electric plane, with Pipistrel's chief test pilot invited to a meeting to discuss the airplane. Pipistrel then offered the data on the plane, which led to Florida Tech inquiring about the plane to use for their own research. After internal discussions and a grant from the Buehler Perpetual Trust, the school put in the order last September with the aircraft arriving in Melbourne in July.While there is still much data on electric-powered flight to be obtained, the possibilities have researchers at Florida Tech excited about developing a better understanding of these types of aircraft, including current things done well and what may need to be improved."We expect to see some drawbacks and limitations, but more importantly we expect to also see potential opportunities," noted Kish. "As the first US customer, Florida TEch will report our research finding to Pipistrel and the FAA. This initial feedback is crucial in the engineering process to evolve the design as well as assist federal regulators on developing certification and training guidelines."
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