• Aug 11th 2010 at 3:57PM
  • 22
Cessna has built over 43,000 of its 172 Skyhawks since introducing the airplane back in 1955 and, until now, all have burned aviation fuel (Avgas) to fly the friendly skies. That is set to change as the ol' air-dog will learn a new trick this year with its manufacturer announcing that it is teaming up with Bye Energy to produce an electric-powered proof of concept (POC) version of the venerable bird.

According to reports, the 4-seater could have as much as a four-hour flight time. If you are thinking that doesn't seem feasible given the energy density of today's batteries, you're probably right. Not mentioned in the press release is the fact this first flyer will actually be a plug-in hybrid outfitted with an auxiliary power unit running on jet fuel.

For its part, Bye Energy has been working on putting together the electric aero-drivetrain since 2008. Though its not known which specific components will go into this POC, video from earlier this year showed them discussing an approach that would use a UQM 125 motor as well as thin-film solar cells on top of the wings to increase range. Hit the jump to check out that footage as well as a news report about the announcement and the official press release.

[Source: Cessna / Bye Energy / Terri Griffith / AVweb]

Press Release

Cessna and Bye Energy Developing Electric-Powered Proof-of-Concept Skyhawk

OSHKOSH, Wis., July 26, 2010 - Cessna Aircraft Company, a Textron Inc. (NYSE: TXT) company, today announced that it is collaborating with Bye Energy, Inc., an integrator of clean, alternative energy technologies for business and general aviation aircraft, to design and develop an electric propulsion system for a Cessna 172 proof-of-concept (POC) aircraft.

Cessna's Chairman, President and CEO Jack J. Pelton said, "As we look at the landscape of alternative fuels for general aviation aircraft, the electric power plant offers significant benefits, but there are significant challenges to get there. We believe Bye Energy has gotten off to a good start in understanding those challenges and how to overcome them."

George Bye, CEO of Bye Energy Inc., thanked Cessna for its collaboration. "We are honored to work with Cessna in accomplishing the proof of concept endeavor. Cessna's support of the electric and electric-hybrid program is vital to moving general aviation into the future," he said.

Representatives from Bye Energy will be at the Cessna exhibit during EAA's AirVenture on Thursday, July 29, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., for one-on-one interviews.

First flight of the electric-powered Cessna 172 Skyhawk POC is expected to take place by yearend.

Cessna has delivered more than 43,000 Cessna 172s, making it the most popular general aviation aircraft in history.


Cessna is the world's leading general aviation company, based on unit sales, with five major lines of business: Citation business jets, Caravan single-engine turboprops, Cessna single-engine piston aircraft, aftermarket services and lift solutions by CitationAir. In 2009, Cessna delivered 754 aircraft, including 289 Citation business jets, and reported revenues of about $3.3 billion. Since the company was originally established in 1927, more than 192,000 Cessna airplanes have been delivered around the world, including more than 6,000 Citations, making it the largest fleet of business jets in the world. More information about Cessna Aircraft Company is available at www.cessna.com.

Textron Inc. is a multi-industry company that leverages its global network of aircraft, defense, industrial and finance businesses to provide customers with innovative solutions and services. Textron is known around the world for its powerful brands such as Bell Helicopter, Cessna Aircraft Company, Jacobsen, Kautex, Lycoming, E-Z-GO, Greenlee, and Textron Systems. More information is available at www.textron.com.

Formed in 2008, Bye Energy is developing an electric and electric-hybrid propulsion system for light general aviation aircraft, announcing "The Green Flight Project" (www.TheGreenFlightProject.aero) earlier this year. The company is headquartered on Centennial Airport in Englewood, Colo., and also has offices in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Albuquerque, N.M. For more information, go to www.ByeEnergy.com.

Forward-looking Information: Certain statements in this release are forward-looking statements and speak only as of the date on which they are made, and we undertake no obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements. These forward-looking statements are subject to risks and uncertainties that may cause actual results to differ materially from those contained in the statements, including but not limited to the following: [a] changes in worldwide economic and political conditions that impact demand for our products, interest rates and foreign exchange rates; [b] the interruption of production at our facilities or at our suppliers' facilities; [c] the timing of new product launches and certifications of new aircraft products; [d] the occurrence of slowdowns or downturns in customer markets in which our products are sold or supplied; [e] changes in aircraft delivery schedules or cancellations or deferrals of orders; [f] the launching of significant new products or programs which could result in unanticipated expenses; [g] changes in national or international government policies on the export and import of commercial products; [h] bankruptcy or other financial or performance problems at major suppliers or subcontractors that could cause disruptions in our supply chain; [i] continued difficult conditions in the financial markets resulting in adverse impacts to our customers, including difficulty in obtaining financing for the purchase of our products; and [j] continued volatility in the economy resulting in a prolonged downturn in the business jet market.

I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.

    • 1 Second Ago
      • 8 Months Ago
      While talking about safety air travel, i think the private jet travel is the safest way to make the journey.
      • 8 Months Ago
      if you're only traveling for a short distance, then hire a private helicopter charter. If not, then stick to the usual commercial flights. choose the most reliable airlines. http://www.atlashelicopters.co.uk/
      • 8 Months Ago
      Jason - yes, there have already been successful flights elsewhere.

      A conventional light aircraft propelled by an 18 kW electric motor powered by lithium polymer batteries made its first flight late in December2008 in France. The 48-minute flight of the “Electra” covered more than 50 kilometers (31 miles).

      The single-seater, based on a Sourciette kit aircraft, is the product of APAME (Association pour la Promotion des Aéronefs à Motorisation Électrique, Association to Promote Electrical Aircraft), with the support of a number of partners.

      The wood and fabric Electra is 7m in length, with a wingspan of 9m. Weight of the aircraft without batteries is 134 kg. The battery pack weights 47 kg. Maximum takeoff weight is 265 kg. The aircraft has a cruise speed of 90 km/h.

      It was scheduled to attempt a flight over The English Channel, separating France from England, in July 2009, but I'm not sure if it did so. Maybe someone else can confirm.
      • 8 Months Ago
      Wow . . . . I'm shocked. I wouldn't think that this would be practical at all. But perhaps it can. E-flyer is the other airplane you may be thinking of. But the Cessna 172 is a standard private plane that has been around for decades. It isn't designed to be super light-weight or aerodynamic (well, I guess all planes are aerodynamic ;-) ). Pretty amazing if you can get it to fly on electricity.
        • 8 Months Ago
        "If you are thinking that doesn't seem feasible given the energy density of today's batteries, you're probably right. Not mentioned in the press release is the fact this first flyer will actually be a plug-in hybrid outfitted with an auxiliary power unit running on jet fuel. "
      • 8 Months Ago
      WHAT THE WHAT?! Video #2...first frame...BMW E39 5-series convertible?!?!?!?!?!
      • 8 Months Ago

      The 172 has had fuel injection since the 1990's.

      The 172 uses an all-electronic instrument panel called the G1000. There are a few mechanical backup instruments, but the main displays are electronic. Most new piston airplanes have had similar electronic cockpits for years.

      Turbocharging has been widely available for small piston airplanes for more than 40 years. The 172, being a trainer, does not use or need it, but Cessna's larger 182 and 206 have been available with turbocharged engines for decades.

      The 172 was first introduced in the 1950's, not the 60's, and those sold today are equipped with airbags and hi-g seats for improved crashworthiness.
        • 8 Months Ago
        I agree with ernie to a point. Cessna has not pushed aerodynamics and design forward enough in recent years. The cockpit has been upgraded to digital, but the actual body of the plane has no advanced.
      • 8 Months Ago
      uhmmmmm..... it's an airplane.
      Hours is nice - but somewhat meaningless without speed, and so.... range.

      Also - can't they just power it with wind turbines?
      hahahahhahahahaha...... lol.
      • 8 Months Ago
      My comment about fuel injection is a bit off - I was thinking of electronic fuel injection. As bataviax points out, the 172 has been available with fuel injection for a long time. I am showing my age - I have never actually flown a 172 that lacks a carb heat knob. :-)

      I believe fuel injected aircraft engines have existed since the 1960s. The Continental TSIO-360 was certified in 1966, apparently.

      And now for some commentary on the story: the driving force behind Cessna's move, I believe, is the likelihood that 100LL (100 octane, leaded gasoline) will be unavailable or extremely expensive in the not-too-distant future. That will put a crimp on avgas-fueled airplanes. Cessna tried to introduce a 172 model running on jet fuel, but the German company that certified the turbocharged, fuel-injected diesel/jet-fuel piston engine they were going to use went bankrupt. So, no 172TD.
        • 8 Months Ago
        The below comments are from my non-pilot brain. I've picked up a lot of info over time, but in no way do I try to pass myself off as knowledgeable on the subject, but here goes.

        While sitting in an FBO a few months back, I was reading through one of the magazines on the table(I don't recall which one) and they made mention of 100LL being replaced by an unleaded version.

        It wasn't so much that all planes would have to switch to Jet Fuel, but the switchover would have a more critical effect on aircraft engines than the same switchover did for automobiles a while back which is why it's taken this long to implement.

        I don't think avgas planes will go away, they will just evolve to use an unleaded version. AT least that's what I gathered from the story. How that will affect the tens of thousands of 100LL planes already out there though is the question. Most planes can have a life much longer than you typical car, it's not as though the market is made up of mostly new aircraft. So the decisions they make will affect a lot of aircraft.

        Will be interesting to see what happens.
      • 8 Months Ago
      looks good.
      no doubt the sizes are ranges can be adapted for anything you want.
      now just to redesign the 60 year old design to make the sure the aerodynamics and propulsion output is really efficient.
      id like to see a plane with a dyson impeller using the coanda effect
      Jane Austen
      • 8 Months Ago
      I don't know a whole lot about the Cessna, but this idea of a hybrid Skyhawk is intriguing. I have been on a Cessna before, and have taken a helicopter charter, but never something quite like this one (ex. http://www.taigahelicopters.com ). Will it be available for the public to ride in, or is it already?
      • 8 Months Ago

      Has any other company attempted something like this before? I remember hearing something a while back but I'm too lazy right now to dig into the archives...
      • 8 Months Ago
      This is R&D, not product development. Cessna just wants to keep up with the technology for the day when the technology reaches practical. It can not be exaggerated how weight is issue number one in aviation. Everything else spins off from there.

      From there, the advantages that I can think of are the super simplicity (being critical to safety, maintenance costs are significant to operating margins of aircraft), improved reliability, high torque at low RPM (obviates weight for gears and gives more flexibility on prop type), ability to provide temporary climb power without needing a heavy motor at all times, and noise abatement. And best of all, electric motors fly fine upside down without need of special modifications. Others?

      Gas motors, although they are surprisingly reliable, have many vulnerabilities: Bird nests blocking motor air ducts or catching fire, thermal shock when changing altitudes quickly, reduced performance from altitude air thinning, risk of fire from fuel leaks, piston failures lead to substantial vibrations in flight reducing visibility and high loads on airframe, sudden throttle changes causing engine flooding & quit at dangerous times, overheating of engine or inefficiency from poor air mix choice, carburetors (where still used) icing closed, etc.
        • 8 Months Ago
        "Cessna just wants to keep up with the technology for the day when the technology reaches practical."

        That's laughable, considering that the last time I checked (admittedly, about 15 years ago, but even then...) civil aviation has barely touched the kinds of engine technologies that are currently available. Things like electronic fuel injection (or even mechanical fuel injection), and turbocharging have been ignored in favour of naturally aspirated engines, in spite of the fact that they're even better suited to aircraft than to cars. The 172 pictured here basically hasn't changed since its first version introduced in the 60's, and as far as I know they're still using 350ci 4 cylinder boxers.

        Thankfully, a few instruments have changed (think: GPS), but for the most part even a lot of the avionics are still mechanical and not electronic.
        • 8 Months Ago
        I agree with JustZisGuy:

        In all the small planes I've flown in recently, the ones that weren't turboprops were turbocharged. The two piston planes I've flown in most often are a Cessna 320 and several Piper Navajos(and a few Chieftans). These are planes that were built 40yrs ago or more as well, not new technology.

        If you want to fly higher altitudes(which we often need for our work) and don't want a turboprop, there's no way around turbos really. We also have some turboprop planes as well, but they can get expensive. Turbocharged piston engines are cheaper to fly in almost every measure.

        Given my choice, I'd fly in a turboprop all day, but I understand the cost aspect from a business standpoint.
        • 8 Months Ago
        Ernie, I don't think you are really disagreeing with my point. I was asserting that Cessna isn't rushing into anything. They are just getting their toes in. Going electric would be a transition unparalleled in magnitude for Cessna and not entered lightly. But under the right conditions, they would do it. Fuel efficiency is a major factor in the practicality of aviation. It effects range, payload, speed and cost per mile. Beating this would be a major boon for industry growth.

        But what is "practical technology" for an aircraft is quite different than that for an automobile. Above everything else (besides weight, perhaps), aircraft engines need to be simple and reliable. Because of all the nuanced atmospheric performance parameters, you can't simply put a modern car engine into an airplane and get the same results.

        The hard reality is that the light aircraft market can't come close to supporting the capital investments required to undergo a blank sheet redesign of an FAA certified ICE engine. Car engines are very sophisticated and cost hundreds of millions (a billion?) to design and tool. Some new LSA engines are coming out, but IIRC even these are evolutionary designs. This is way we see so little change in aviation propulsion.

        What is really encouraging about electric drive is that they will not be so tightly dependent on atmospheric conditions the way ICE's are, and so are likely far easier to design, customize and build for aircraft without that same huge upfront investment. So, one of the main hurdles to light aircraft engine advancement may finally be overcome, allowing for a cost effective transition for general aviation into a new era.

        Unfortunately, that just speaks to the motor. When it comes to atmospheric conditions and temperatures, batteries are not yet holding nearly the same promise.
        • 8 Months Ago
        Ernie: turbocharging has been ignored? Say what? There have been turbocharged piston engines in aircraft since the 1960s. (From Cessna, for example, the Turbo 206 or 310). It just so happens that for *most* uses, it isn't worth the added expense. If you want cabin class and pressurized, you generally move up to a turboprop.

        As for ignoring fuel injection - tell me, how do you certify a gasoline engine with fuel injection? It isn't as easy. Are you going to give the pilot control of the fuel/air mixture? If not, then how do you prove that the engine will never have any difficulties, over all the temperatures and altitudes and temperatures and loads it is placed under?

        Look at ignition - dual magnetos, with pilot control. As long as the engine is turning, the magneto provides the voltage required to run the spark plugs. If there's a failure in one magneto, you can isolate it.

        Versus trusting it to a computer. Which can be done, but certifying that it pretty much won't fail ever? Not easy.

        I have nearly 400 hours in Cessna 172s alone. I have never experienced an engine failure. One year after buying a brand new Volkswagen Golf TDI (turbo, direct injection), the engine went dead all of a sudden just because a relay failed. Dead as a doorknob. Absolutely nothing. Zero.

        Dude, you can't just pull over to the side of the road when you're flying an airplane!
        • 8 Months Ago
        You failed to mention that since there is no combustion involved, an electric motor performs the same at 20000 ft as it does on the ground. Oxygen levels are not a problem.
    • Load More Comments
    Share This Photo X