First electric Cessna 172 to fly next spring

November 4, 2010

George Bye of Bye Energy said he plans to fly a 1978 Cessna 172 with an electric propulsion system sometime next spring, a first step toward the development of an electric hybrid propulsion system. Eventually he will use a jet-fuel-powered auxiliary power unit to recharge the batteries and give the aircraft greater range. There was no need to test it on the first flight, he said.

Bye Energy, a subsidiary of Bye Aerospace Inc., is a clean energy solutions integrator for general aviation. The company is headquartered in Englewood, Colo., at Centennial Airport with additional offices at the Arizona State University SkySong Innovation Center in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Albuquerque, N.M.

Bye will be joined by officials from Cessna as he briefs the aviation press on the latest progress on his electric Cessna 172 at AOPA Aviation Summit in Long Beach, Calif., on Nov. 11.

The aircraft will have the rear seats removed and replaced with lithium ion batteries. Bye said there are already lithium ion batteries in commercial use. Cessna, which offers engineering support to Bye, has certified as standard a 44-amp lithium ion battery for starting and emergency backup on the Citation CJ4. It was developed by Cessna and A123 Systems, and marked the first use of a Li-ion battery aboard a business jet. It weighs less than a standard lead-acid battery.

Bye noted that, unlike a fueled engine, electric motors are indifferent to density altitude changes. They don’t just provide a clean alternative to fueled airplane engines, electric motors keep all their power at altitude, he said.

He would not comment on whether his company will manufacture conversion kits for Cessna 172s and said it is not possible yet to determine a price for such a conversion.

Al Marsh

Alton K. Marsh | AOPA Pilot Senior Editor, AOPA

AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Alton Marsh has been a pilot since 1970 and has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates, aerobatic training, and a commercial seaplane certificate.