Ampaire has become the first manufacturer to trial an electric-powered aircraft in Scotland.
The flight was made last week by Ampaire’s six-seater Cessna Skymaster from a new test centre in Orkney. One of the aircraft’s twin engines has been replaced with an electric motor.
Ampaire believes the flight could pave the way for further inter-island and short-haul flights by retofitted aircraft and cut carbon emissions. The flight marked the first for a low-carbon aircraft at the £3.7m sustainable aviation facility based at Kirkwall airport.
The Cessna was built in 1974 was retrofitted at the company’s Californian headquarters. The plane made initial test flights in Hawaii, before being shipped to Scotland for its first flight across open water, a 37 mile flight between Orkney and Wick.
“Only hybrid-electric plane flying today”
Test pilot Justin Gillen told BBC Scotland: “It’s the only hybrid-electric airplane that I know of flying today. As the airplane is approaching, you hear the propeller which is a kind of blade-through-air sound and then you hear the throatier sound of the engine. With our electric engine, you hear the propeller but that’s pretty much it.”
Ampaire’s design places engines at the front and back of the cockpit in a “push-pull” design. The front engine has been replaced with an electric motor that’s a fraction of the size and a battery pack has been attached to the aircraft’s underbelly. Rapid charging of the battery provides around 90 minutes of flight.
Electric aviation will guarantee “lifeline links”
Dougie Cook, from Highlands and Islands Airports, told BBC Scotland: “If aviation is to survive throughout the world, then it needs to decarbonise and it needs to do so quite quickly. So this is a really important first step. The links around Orkney are called lifeline links for a reason and it’s absolutely essential that we keep them going so electric aviation will guarantee that and make it sustainable for the future.”
Flights currently operate from Kirkwall to six of the furthest islands – Eday, Sanday, Stronsay, North Ronaldsay, Westray and Papa Westray. The test facility is expecting to play host to other forms of low-carbon flights, including hydrogen and sustainable aviation fuels.