Ampaire Inc., renowned in the realm of hybrid electric aircraft, has recently pushed the boundaries with its Electric EEL aircraft, achieving a record-breaking 12-hour flight on December 10, 2023. This flight, which took place in Camarillo, California, not only established a new benchmark in hybrid electric flight endurance but also demonstrated significant operational flexibility with over two hours of fuel and battery reserves remaining upon completion.
The Electric EEL is not a new player in the field. Since its inception, it has been part of an extensive series of flights that have contributed to its development and reliability. These flights include missions to Hawaii, Alaska, Canada, and a notable 1,135-mile trip from Los Angeles to Oshkosh, Wisconsin. In November 2022, the aircraft was showcased at the Regional Air Cargo Carriers Association conference in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Ampaire’s approach with the Electric EEL demonstrates an innovative integration of hybrid powertrain technology. The design allows for the use of a smaller, more efficient combustion engine supplemented by electric assist for thrust during critical phases like takeoff and landing. This system also includes a form of regenerative braking, unique to aerial vehicles, where energy is recovered during deceleration phases. The current EEL model operates with separate combustion and electric powertrains working in parallel, a setup derived from its Cessna 337 Skymaster twin-tail donor plane. Future iterations aim to improve this system further, making it possible for the gasoline engine to charge the battery in-flight, enhancing operational flexibility and sustainability.
Ampaire’s CEO, Kevin Noertker, has emphasized the company’s dedication to transforming the performance and utility of hybrid electric vehicles. He highlights the unique economic benefits and operational versatility of their hybrid electric solutions, aligning with the needs of their customers. These include prospective clients like leasing group Monte and Brazilian regional airline Azul Conecta, which have shown interest in the Eco Caravan, an aircraft equipped with Ampaire’s hybrid-electric propulsion technology.
Ampaire’s strategy goes beyond the Electric EEL, focusing on converting existing aircraft models like the Caravan into hybrid-electric versions. This approach has been compared to the technology used in hybrid-electric cars like the Prius, offering a blend of electric and combustion power without the need for charging at every stop. This method aims to alleviate range anxiety and the need for extensive charging infrastructure, making it a viable solution for many smaller airports.