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“Bye Hawk” Electric Plane Set to Transform the Skies?

| Monday February 21st, 2011 | 10 Comments

By Dustin Charapata

Every so often, a concept comes along that changes the way we interact with the world.  Several instantly come to mind – the wheel, jet engine, Facebook.  At their core, these paradigm-shifting ideas usually provide a specific answer to a general problem and are nurtured by companies with the persistence and vision to take big ideas mainstream.  Bye Energy could be such a company.  The new startup is looking to transform general aviation by taking the most popular plane in history, the Cessna Skyhawk 172, and turning it into the equivalent of a flying hairdryer – just plug it in and go.  By moving to an all-electric platform, the aptly named “Bye Hawk” will reduce the need for fossil fuels and costly maintenance infrastructure while increasing access to flight training.

Electric flight is nothing new.  The Solar Impulse, a Swiss project conceived in 2003, flew for twenty-six consecutive hours last year.  The German company PC – Aero is already testing a single-seater electric aircraft.  But the unique brilliance of the Bye-plane (a spin on “biplane”) derives not from the idea of an electric plane, but adaptation of the legendary Cessna 172 airframe.  Odds are, if you can fly, you have done it in a Skyhawk.

So who cares?  Isn’t Bye’s idea the equivalent of a flying Prius?  The short answer is, yes – and that is a good thing.  It is no secret that small aircraft are terribly inefficient and notorious polluters.  Currently, taking a Skyhawk for an hour cruise would burn at least eight gallons of 100 low lead (100LL).  Calling the fuel low lead is misleading: lead is actually added to 100LL to boost its octane rating.  This is the same lead the government banned from automobile use in 1996 due to health risks and environmental implications.  In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced that fifty percent of airborne lead could be traced to 100LL.  The Bye Hawk would eliminate the need for 100LL in the most popular plane on the planet, thereby reducing emissions and reliance on fossil fuels.

But Bye is not promising only fuel savings; maintenance costs will also be dramatically reduced.  Bye estimates its electric engine will need an overhaul every 25,000 hours, versus a typical combustion engine that needs overhaul every 5,000 hours.  This disparity in overhaul hours has the potential to drastically reduce myriad manufacturing processes necessary for aircraft engines.  Moreover, the fuel and maintenance savings, combined with an electric engine’s inherent ease-of-use, increases accessibility to flight training.  Learning to fly currently costs several thousand dollars– Bye’s 172-conversion project will drastically reduce that figure to more modest levels.

From the macro perspective, if Bye Energy can successfully convert the Cessna 172 to an electric airplane, other manufacturers will surely follow suit.  The environmental and cost benefits are just too large to ignore.  Bye Energy seems on the cusp of a paradigm shift that will breathe new life into general aviation and reap significant rewards for the environment.

Dustin Charapata is a commercial pilot and first year law student at University of Denver.


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  • linda

    Great article! Nice to know we are working on greening the planes also..

  • Mike Huffman

    Does this guy work for Bye Energy, or what? He sure sounds like a first-year law student laying out his case. I reviewed Bye Energy’s website and don’t really see anything on even the far horizon for a practical electric-powered 172. I suspect the reason the 172 was chosen is that Cessna is one of Bye Energy’s partners. Why not choose the Skycatcher instead?–it is a much more weight- and drag-efficient airframe than even the Cessna 150, much less the 172.

    How is it that Bye can take an overly-heavy airframe and make it carry at least two people (even though it is a four-place airplane) for any practical amount of flight time, especially since other electric aircraft manufacturers are barely able to get something close to practical endurance with only one person?

    And last, but certainly not least,for an article being published in a magazine for people who love flying, what’s with the necessity to bash the current 100LL situation, with vague and questionable statistics? Oh, wait a minute, Bye Energy is also into the development of biofuels. Now, I get it!

    • Dustin C.

      The 172 is a perfect platform because it is the most popular airplane in the world. Thus, there is built in market for retrofitting. Additionally, the 172 airframe is proven, durable, and easy to fly.

      How can Bye make the 172 fly you ask? The basic physics behind getting an aircraft in the air involve using lift and thrust to overcome weight and drag. Once Bye figures this out, I’d imagine they would be able to get the aircraft in the air.

      So you like 100LL? Do you have any experience with this fuel? The fuel is incredible dirty, costly, and environmentally unfriendly. Personally, I’d rather fly an electric plane than deal with costly fill-ups.

  • Mark C

    Seriously? How are mobile packages of hazardous materials any more “green” than gasoline engines? What happens to all those worn out batteries? Is making solar cells “green”, or does it use toxic chemicals? Now, given equal performance (unlikely) I’d sure be in favor of going electric if it extended my TBO (Time Between Overhaul) by a factor of 10 or more, but until electric motors have a proven track record I don’t know that I believe that. And finally, how is it that a commercial pilot doesn’t know that there is NO piston aircraft in existence with a 5,000 hour TBO, the engines used in Cessna 172’s have 1,200, 1,500, or 2,000 hour TBO’s, depending on model. Looks like gratuitous pandering to the green crowd and/or thinly veiled shilling for Bye Energy, to me.

    • Dustin C.

      Worn out batteries can be recycled and recharged. Solar cells may use toxic chemicals, but the net benefit to the environment outweighs the use of those chemicals.

      I was wrong about the TBO. I was going off memory and for some reason 5,000 hours was in my mind. However, it seems you strengthened my point by acknowledging an even larger gap between the TBO of electric and combustion.

  • Andy

    Sure, it would be great if it works. It doesn’t yet. Fusion power and curing cancer would be awesome too. Send me some news when there is an actual breakthrough. In the mean time, send this to Popular Science where people can mail order the plans.

    • Dustin C.

      Curing cancer does not work very well right now. Should we, as you suggest, simply abandon that pursuit because it is not working right now? Of course not, every idea must start somewhere.

  • Lardo

    “Dustin Charapata is a commercial pilot and first year law student at University of Denver.”

    He’s also a blithering idiot.

  • randel

    once someone marries hydrogen powered electric fuel cells with electric airplanes you will see a true green innovation in aviation. hydrogen would be lightweight to carry aboard and a fuel cell would be far lighter than batteries of any kind, cleaner long term too.

  • randel

    hydrogen power will greatly extend electic aircraft’s range as well. water is the raw ingredient for “cracking” hydrogen. we have some water lying around…