Electric planes take flight at Hartford-Brainard Airport

For the first time in Connecticut history, a battery-powered light aircraft carried passengers for five-minute flights to Hartford-Brainard Airport, just three miles from downtown Hartford.

Walking down the tarmac, Hartford Jet Center co-owner Lindsey Rutka beamed at the two electric planes in the hangar.

“This is the future of airplanes,” Rutka proclaimed.

The Pipistrel Alpha Electro looks to the untrained eye like any other small plane, but in flight, rather than the roar of a gasoline engine, only the propellers emit a low growl.

Next to it was the futuristic $150,000 AIR One, which Michael B. Teiger, the executive director of the Hartford Brainard Airport Association, Inc., compares to something from the 60s cartoon The Jetsons. However, it’s still in the testing phase and won’t be taken to the skies until 2023 at the earliest, said AIR co-founder and CEO Rani Plaut.

The main event is the first, the $235,000 Pipistrel Alpha Electro, which includes the $20,000 charging station. Alpha Electro pilot, former US Navy aviation structural mechanic and founder of the Learn 2 Fly CT flight school, Phil Smith, told the Courant that it is ideal for the needs of flying schools like his.

The plane owned by CT’s Hartford Aviation Technologies is small, carrying only two passengers with no room for luggage, but that’s no problem, according to Smith. Simplicity and affordability are the main attractions of the aircraft, with Pipistrel advertising that the aircraft is “as easy to charge and use as a cell phone”.

As it leaps along the runway, it seems unsurprisingly quiet, and once in the air it feels more like a glider than a self-propelled plane. Smith added that this actually makes it a little harder to land because the pilot has to work harder to get the wheels to connect with the asphalt.

Although the flight is short during the exhibition, around 5 minutes, Smith and his peers want to show what the plane can do and its potential.

Smith pointed out that there were issues with the regulations set by the FAA. Currently, everything is based on gas-powered planes, and to teach future pilots of the Alpha Electro, they have to be co-owners for $1,000, Smith said.

Alpha Electro has a short takeoff distance of over 1,000 feet per minute, climb capability and a flight time of approximately one hour. However, due to the Federal Aviation Administration, Smith said, the plane must prepare to land with 30 minutes of flight time remaining in fuel or in this case, battery. The plane takes about an hour to recharge and the plane’s cruising range is 75 nautical miles, Smith said.

Teiger said it would not replace its single-engine fixed-wing aircraft yet and stressed that the Alpha Electro is not intended to replace the existing single-engine light aircraft, but that the technology around the battery capacity does not will only improve.

Rutka said he plans to install solar panels across Hartford Jet Center’s entire 150,000 square foot suspended roof over the next two years, making aircraft power sources completely green, or “green.” to green”, as he puts it.

Carbon-free air travel is increasingly in demand, with planes emitting around 100 times more CO2 per hour than a shared bus or train journey and global aviation emissions are around 1 billion tonnes of CO2 per year. Aviation contributes about 2.4% of annual global CO2 emissions, most of it from commercial travel, according to Science Magazine.

Being able to conduct training at smaller airfields closer to towns and cities with zero C02 emissions and minimal noise is ideal for Hartford’s small airport, Rutka said. Just three miles from downtown Hartford, the 201-acre airport is fighting to stay open.

In 1921, “a 350-acre cow pasture became the chosen site for what has been called the nation’s first municipal airport,” named after Hartford Mayor Newton C. Brainard, according to the Connecticut Airport Authority. Then, “the airfield’s status was enhanced in 1927 when Charles A. Lindbergh first stopped at Brainard on a national victory tour after his solo transatlantic flight”.

Being able to conduct training at smaller airfields closer to towns and cities with zero C02 emissions and minimal noise is ideal for Hartford’s small airport, supporters say. Just three miles from downtown Hartford, the 201-acre airport is fighting to stay open.

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin supported closing the 200-acre airport, making it an issue during his first mayoral campaign in 2015. However, a group of pilots, tenants and airport friends pushed back and, in early 2022, created the Hartford. Brainard Airport Association.

In March, a new $1.5 million study will examine the cost and potential barriers to closing Hartford’s South Meadows of Hartford-Brainard Airport. State Sen. John W. Fonfara, who has long lobbied for the airfield’s redevelopment, said the study would hire outside experts to assess the airport’s future.

Teiger, Rutka and Smith all said they were confident the introduction and maiden flight in Connecticut of its first electronic aircraft would demonstrate the importance of the airfield and its potential for the future.

The second plane, called AIR One, passed the first hover test of its electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) prototype, according to AIR co-founder and CEO Rani Plaut, but did not. yet got FAA approval.

The Israeli company was founded in 2018 as Polarity Mobility, by technical director Chen Rosen, and has expanded to include Plaut and chief operating officer Netanel Goldberg, according to AIR.

The plane is “propelled by eight electric motors and uses eight pairs of rotors to fly at a maximum speed of 155 mph, according to AIR. Its maximum range is 110 miles and is attributed, according to Plaut, to the plane’s light weight. : the AIR One’s wings and rotors do not tilt, and the lack of machinery needed to tilt the wings reduces weight.

“It’s a utility plane,” Plaut said. “We wanted to merge the two, helicopter and plane.”

He hopes first responders will be able to use the speed of a fixed wing and the agility of a helicopter. But it was not designed to be used only for emergency response; that’s just another advantage of the AIR One, Plaut said. The hope is to achieve AIR One FAA approval in early 2023.

Kenneth R. Gosselin contributed to this report. Douglas Hook can be reached at dhook@courant.com

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