Pipistrel Velis Electro: First Type Certified Electric Airplane

Discover the story behind the certification of Pipistrel's Velis Electro as it becomes the first type certified electric airplane.

AvBuyer  |  12th August 2020
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Pipistrel Velis Electro in Hanger

When Slovenian aircraft manufacturer Pipistrel flew its WATTsUP concept demonstrator in 2014, and later showed the aircraft at the Salon de Blois airshow in August that year, it was to mark a path that resulted in the world’s first certificated electric aircraft - the Velis. 

On the way to that achievement, Pipistrel introduced the Alpha Electro, although development of all this started back in 2007. After the success of the WATTsUP, Pipistrel took its existing two-seat, high-wing composite aircraft, the Virus, and replaced its Rotax 912 power plant with the electric motor while modifying the design to carry a power pack behind the two seats. Siemens of Germany provided the electric motor. 

The Alpha Electro 2-seat electric trainer is tailored to the needs of flight schools with an endurance of one hour plus a 30-minute reserve. “The Alpha Electro is optimised for traffic-pattern operations, where up to 13% of energy is recuperated on every approach, increasing operations range and at the same time enabling short-field landings,” said Pipistrel.

“With the ever-growing cost of fuel, it is time to rethink pilot training. Our solution is the first practical all-electric trainer. Technologies which we developed in-house specially for this aircraft cut the cost of ab-initio pilot training by as much as 70%, making flying more affordable than ever before.”

The recommendation from dealers at the moment is to run one alongside conventionally powered aircraft, but in future better battery packs will allow longer operations and quicker charging (which takes a minute for every minute of flight time, roughly). 

Striving for More...

While the Alpha Electro met the microlight and ASTM LSA requirements, as well as standards for electric propulsion systems, meaning in some countries it could be used for PPL training, Pipistrel pushed on further to create a version that would meet EASA requirements for a fully certificated aircraft. This led to the Velis, based on the Virus SW121. 

The upgraded Virus type certificate was awarded by EASA to Pipistrel Vertical Solutions d.o.o. on 10th June, now covering both the Virus (the SW 121B) and Virus SW 128 (the “Commercial Designation” of which is the Velis Electro). 

The 60+ kW electric motor only weighs 20 kg and is more powerful than the Rotax 912 engine. The 21 kWh battery pack is dual-redundant and designed to be either quickly replaceable within minutes or charged in less than one hour, “thanks to the next generation of Pipistrel’s Battery Management technology.” The airframe uses proven features from hundreds of Pipistrel’s aircraft flying worldwide, added the company.

"Working in tight collaboration with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, whose engagement was essential to reaching this unprecedented milestone, Pipistrel demonstrated that its new Velis Electro achieves the highest levels of safety.”

“After years of intensive research and several successful award-winning electric aircraft models developed since 2007, Pipistrel has today achieved a breakthrough feat in aviation history, having type certified the battery powered Velis Electro. 

Working in tight collaboration with the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, whose engagement was essential to reaching this unprecedented milestone, Pipistrel demonstrated that its new Velis Electro achieves the highest levels of safety.”

Simplicity of Design and Operation

The Velis Training System centred on the Velis Electro has been designed to be simple to operate and maintain and includes a charging dock that Pipistrel hopes will be adopted at airfields around the world — along with its own simulator.

Ivo Boscarol, founder and CEO of Pipistrel Aircraft, commented: “The type certification of the Pipistrel Velis Electro is the first step towards the commercial use of electric aircraft, which is needed to make emission-free aviation feasible. 

"It is considerably quieter than other aeroplanes and produces no combustion gases at all. It confirms…to other electric aircraft designers that the Type Certificate of electric engines and aeroplanes is possible.”

The engine, which Pipistrel type certified separately, is also available to other aircraft OEMs. And for Pipistrel, this achievement injects additional motivation for the future eVTOL and multi-seat hydrogen-powered projects. 

Pipistrel will deliver the first 31 Velis Electro aircraft to customers in seven different countries during 2020. Marc B. Corpataux was the launch customer for the Velis Electro, for AlpinAirPlanes GmbH.

Suitable for Flight Schools

“With more than 400 flight hours and 25 pilots introduced to the predecessor Alpha Electro, we are convinced of the suitability of electric flight in the daily flight school environment. Initially, we will distribute 12 aircraft on 10 airfields over Switzerland. Each base will be equipped with 150 m2 of photovoltaic panels, producing electricity for 12,000 flight hours per year on the Velis Electro. We are happy to offer the most environmental friendly training possible.” 

The flight test programme used a fleet of (noncertified) Alpha Electros under EASA permit to fly, so the EASA team, which included members from the launch National Aviation Authorities (France’s DGAC FR and Switzerland’s FOCA), had access to operational data necessary for the certification activity, while highlighting the operational needs to enable electric aviation.

During the course of these projects, EASA gained firsthand experience in electric flight, learning more about batteries and their management systems, as well as electrical engine power units. This information has been used to develop the E&HPS Special Condition to further enable electric flight, said EASA. 

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