Electrified Aviation – A Report from the Cockpit

The ringing of cowbells in the meadow outside the Schänis airfield in the St. Gallen municipality of the same name south of Zurich is already the loudest sound I will hear for the next hour. The futurologist and electric aircraft world record holder Morell Westermann has invited me to take a short sightseeing flight on the world record aircraft. In the process, we flew in a loop first southeast to Lake Walen, and then over Lake Zurich and Lake Obersee to land again after just under 40 minutes.

The special feature here is the aircraft itself: it comes from the Slovenian small aircraft manufacturer Pipistrel, which produces the first electric aircraft. The Velis Electro is a 428-kilogram two-seater whose electric battery, with a capacity of 24.8 kWh, delivers a maximum takeoff weight of 600 kilograms into the air with a power of 57.6 kW. The maximum speed is 108 knots (200 km/h) and bridges with this battery capacity a distance of 100 kilometers. In fact, however, the propeller could also be used for recuperation, as we already know from electric cars when braking and driving downhill. However, this function is not yet approved.

The most noticeable thing during the flight is the silence and the lack of vibration, which otherwise dominate a flight. This characteristic of the electric aircraft also allows the machine to be used at airfields designated for glider pilots and at times when air traffic is not scheduled for noise protection reasons. This particular aircraft is used at Schänis airfield, where among the 500 pilots 350 have glider licenses, mainly for training. Thus, the aircraft is mainly used for aerodrome rounds, but is hardly suitable for long-distance flying.

The space in the aircraft itself is cramped, but you get to experience the flying much more directly. You almost feel like the aviation pioneers who sat in the open with goggles and leather helmets. The instrument panel is also tidier and clearer than in aircraft with combustion engines. According to Morell, electric aviation is at the level where electric cars were 10 years ago. The aircraft industry is also benefiting from the increased investment in battery development for electric vehicles. There are still no installed charging stations at the Schänis airfield, as at the other airports, but the transportable charging stations already allow aircraft to be charged. On average, the charging process takes about one hour.

The Swiss weather, at least, was kind to us, and the predicted rain and wind had passed elsewhere.

Here is an impression of the flight itself:

This article was also published in German.

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