For years I’ve said that of all aircraft to succeed with battery electric flight, the first truly usable, enjoyable aircraft would be a Part 103 ultralight. I’ll list several reasons below but the aircraft you see in these images is already flying with electric propulsion and you can get on the list now.
U-Fly-It boss Dennis Carley said they are working on a name. For now, I’ll call the new entry the Electric Aerolite 103 and this machine is ready for market. A few customers already offered payments to get in line (more on that below, too) and one man wrote a check for an Electric Aerolite even while he keeps flying his gasoline-powered Aerolite. How’s that for a vendor’s dream?
Are you ready for electric? It’s ready for you!
“Clean and Tidy”
You hear that phrase about Aerolite fairly often. A very knowledgeable veteran of the light aircraft business, Scott Severen, spoke of visiting U-Fly-It, producer of the Aerolite. After discovering the production process, Scott came away very impressed with the “efficiency” he witnessed. Space is well used, equipment is properly set up, and staff is well trained and managed to produce these popular machines
The electric installation on Aerolite maintains U-Fly-It’s trademark clean and tidy appearance. The arrangement looks well conceived and executed and with a few minor refinements in hardware to contain the battery packs, the Electric Aerolite is done and will enter production.
Learn and see more about Aerolite in this article (one of the most-read on this entire website).
Part 103 Industry Status
As most readers know, I am working my way through a list of 58 Part 103 producers to determine the size of the Part 103 industry and its pilot community. I have responses from about a third of those builders and I am determined to chase down every last one to find out how many are produced each year. Today, no one knows this information …NO one knows, not FAA, not member organizations, and guessing about the figures is a matter of speculation and conjecture.
However, I hope to eventually correct this information shortfall and I believe many will be surprised. I am sticking to my prediction that in unit volume, Part 103 deliveries may pass registrations of Special Light-Sport Aircraft. Wouldn’t that be amazing? Whether you know it or not, I am certain Part 103 aircraft sales are more robust than most think and I believe this has been developing for a few years.
Why Do Ultralights Lead in Electric?
I recall a project to make a Cessna 172 fly with electric propulsion. Did you ever hear how that went? No, you didn’t …probably because it didn’t work well. Electric power isn’t the problem. A Skyhawk is not that efficient an airframe and its base weight and payload demand a large collection of weighty batteries.
Big, heavy battery packs are one of the holdbacks in electric propulsion. Although seeing steady improvement — especially with electric cars being pushed by governments in most economies — batteries remain far behind gasoline in energy density.
Ultralights cope with this weight problem simply by requiring fewer battery packs. A light aircraft doesn’t consume electrical energy as fast to get aloft; climbing is where so much juice is used. In contrast, cruising uses far less energy. You knew that, of course, but in the realm of electric propulsion, this difference becomes critical.
Somewhat offsetting that juice drain is the high torque of electric motors; torque is essential to getting airplanes to altitude.
Another major factor in electric Part 103 ultralights leading the charge is usage patterns.
Aerolite says that how you fly is very important relative to battery capacity. Repeated takeoffs and landing (with climbs to pattern altitude) will drain batteries faster than cruising over the countryside.
Part 103 ultralights are often flown in mornings or evenings for 30 minutes and that’s all the pilot needs to acquire a big grin.
So, lighter weight and shorter flight times — both common features on Part 103 aircraft — makes battery power viable now.
A Few Facts
About Electric Aerolite
You’ll want to ask the factory for the best and latest info but following are a few questions and answers I overheard.
First, you should know that Aerolite 103 is a modest purchase, with gasoline models almost always priced at less than $20,000 in ready-to-fly form. Electric doesn’t change that too much so Aerolite 103 is not only a well-developed aircraft but one you can probably afford (though everyone’s budget is different).
How Long Can You Fly? — Perhaps the most common question is first addressed by talking about how you fly with electric power (see above). But assuming a climb to 700 feet above ground and then cruising at 40-45 miles per hour, two battery packs will last about 30 minutes.
What Is the Maximum Endurance? — While two battery packs are the minimum arrangement (prices below), you can have two, three, or four. If you have four, you can fly for about an hour, again and always dependent on how you operate the powerplant.
How Much? — Prices change so if you are reading this in later 2021 or afterward, please check with the factory. However, at Sun ‘n Fun 2021, here are some price estimates.
Two battery packs with electric motor, controller, and all mounts and cables lists at $9,750.
A gasoline engine and fuel tank may cost slightly less but not a big difference. Each extra battery pack is $2,550 additional.
When Can You Get One? — Gasoline or powered, as of Sun ‘n Fun 2021, Aerolite is quoting delivery at eight months for ready to fly or five months for a kit. Yes, business is that good! More than one Aerolite a week leaves U-Fly-It. Based on early response at the show, Dennis feels sure that length will increase. To address faster deliveries he is working with three top dealers to help manufacture ready-to-fly models for customers; he’ll supply them with kits. Dealer Rick Hayes told me he has already ordered ten Aerolites in the first quarter of 2021.
Hang onto your headset. Aerolite 103 — already one of the success stories in all of aviation — appears poised to expand their market even further and you benefit through their very affordable prices.