Zenith’s headline read: “All-electric Zenith ‘Sky Jeep’ completes first flight, with plans to transport doctors and medical supplies in remote areas of the world.” Several aviation publishers jumped on the news* from light kit-built market leader, Zenith Aircraft.
I’m curious what you think of (1) electric propulsion on any aircraft and (2) electric power for an aircraft used, let’s say, for exploring. If you have an opinion and care to share it, use the comment feature.
To date, most electric-propulsion entries have been sleeker designs. Pipistrel has been a leader in this class; they got their start building sailplanes and motorgliders and never lost their preference for clean, smooth shapes. Many others also participated (nearby images).
Bye Aerospace’s eFlyer continues its long path toward the market. This development company based its aircraft on Arion’s Lightning airframe, a smart choice as Lightning is so smoothly constructed. This article describes what was then called Sun Flyer.
It makes sense doesn’t it? A slippery fuselage will demand less of the batteries. This probably has a lot to do with why we never heard more about an electric Cessna 172. That project probably died when the combination didn’t prove very efficient.
So, Why Electrify a CH-750?
The short answer is… not everyone wants to fly a distance at high speed. Distance is already a challenge for battery-powered aircraft and to fly fast either takes more power or the airframe better be very low drag.
But what if you only need to cover a shorter distance, perhaps one only served by switchback roads through mountainous terrain? What if getting fuel to remote locations is difficult or impossible. How can someone more swiftly serve such hard-to-reach places?
A British project has the goal of delivering healthcare in remote parts of the world. Their all-electric Zenith CH-750 Cruzer took its maiden flight on January 20, 2023. Their aim is to provide a low-cost, rugged, and practical aircraft for use in rural and hard to reach communities, such as medics in Uganda and doctors in rural India.
Tim and Helen Bridge are developing the ‘electric sky jeep,’ an all-electric Zenith CH 750 Cruzer with big tires, “to provide sustainable transportation to deliver doctors, teachers and medical supplies to remote communities across the world,” reported Zenith Aircraft.
The Bridges are propelled by their backgrounds and deep environmental concerns. Tim has extensive experience in renewable electric energy projects. He said, “Earning a degree in meteorology and oceanography brought into stark focus the impact we humans have had on our planet.”
Helen said she is “a Corporate Social Responsibility Manager for a global financial services organization,” and “a Trustee for an international children’s charity, supporting young people displaced by poverty, violence and abuse across the world.” Strong in her beliefs, she closes with “…don’t get me started on the climate crisis.”
“The Bridges’ company plans to tap into ground-based networks of solar-powered energy grids in remote towns and villages,” said Zenith, “so that the aircraft can fly between villages delivering vital medical staff and supplies without relying on outside fuel that needs to be flown in to the location.”
Given its STOL (short takeoff and landing) capabilities, the manufacturer said, “Zenith’s CH-750 is well suited for ‘off-airport’ operations, and can be flown in and out of shorter runways that may also be ‘unimproved,’ such as grass or dirt landing fields.”
The Bridges founded their company, NUNCATS, in 2019. Now that the aircraft has been completed and flown they predicted, “As soon as funding allows, we hope to move towards getting this into communities where it can make a real difference. There are currently a billion people in the world with no access to healthcare.” The project is still seeking backers and sponsors to help fund its development.
How about your interest? The Bridges note, “The ‘electric sky jeep’ kits can also be purchased as a greener option for sports flyers.” When FAA releases Mosaic, it will permit electric and hybrid propulsion, so other entries are likely to follow.
The Bridges partnered with Zenith and several start-up investors to acquire an existing design and adapt it for all-electric operation. Like the hundreds of other electric projects, all await better batteries.
“While we all know that today’s battery technology will not permit the range and endurance available with ICE [internal combustion engines],” said Sebastien Heintz, president of Zenith, “there are some clear advantages of electric power in addition to the more obvious sustainability claims.” He added, “The simplicity of electric motors has the potential to make light aircraft propulsion systems more reliable and easier to install and maintain. This is especially important for amateur aircraft builders and owners. The near-instantly available torque of electric power can further improve upon the STOL performance of our kit aircraft designs.”
Sebastien recognizes that by combining these technologies — airframe design, electric propulsion, and ground-based solar charge stations — people like the Bridges may address real needs around the world in ways that have not been possible before. “We’re thrilled to see the proven Zenith designs being used for this, and anticipate that amateur kit builders will soon be able to access this technology for their light aircraft projects, here and around the world.”
Does electric propulsion excite you? Would you like to move this direction, either in the sort of aircraft you fly today (perhaps a Zenith CH-750) or a multicopter style? Let me know in the comments below.
- Zenith Aircraft, link to contact info and all article and video on this website
- Zenith Aircraft, company website
- Zenith Aircraft CH-750, company info on this model
- Nuncats, company website
- Link to many articles on electric propulsion on light aircraft
* I commend aviation outlets who quickly published this story. I’m always pleased when general aviation publications pick up on LSA or Sport Pilot kit news. I wanted to take a day to put this electric Sky Jeep in context with other electric aircraft.