Pipistrel is of one of the best and most advanced designer & producer of aircraft in the world. We are a holder of the “Design Organization and Production Approval” certificate issued by the European aviation agency EASA. Since 1989 we have produced more than 2200 different aircraft and powered hang-gliders with different kinds of propulsion.
The company’s greatest success comes from the our long tradition of research and development of alternative aircraft propulsions. At the moment, Pipistrel can rightfully claim the title of the world’s leading company for design and manufacture of innovative electric and hybrid-powered aircraft, but also claims some other very important Achievements and Awards from the field of aviation and others.
1.) Pipistrel’s electric history
2.) The Taurus Electro
3.) Taurus G4
5.) Alpha Electro
6.) The Hypstair project
7.) HY4 hydrogen aircraft
8.) EU project MAHEPA
9.) Taurus Electro G2.5
10.) The E-811 engine
11.) The certified battery pack
12.) Pipistrel Velis Electro
14.) MAHEPA 1 – Hy4, the hydrogen powered aircraft
15.) MAHEPA 2 – Panthera Hybrid
1.) Pipistrel’s electric history started way back in 2000 with research and development of electric propulsion systems. The first electric propulsion system, rather simple design by today’s standards, was designed and tested already in 2004.
BATTERIES, OH THOSE BATTERIES!
The problem in those times were the batteries. In the 70’s or 80’s the first battery packs, powerful enough for full aircraft propulsion system, weighed more than 500kg, which was more than aircraft could carry.
Although lithium batteries appeared to be a new introduction to the battery market, they were originally experimented with already in 1912, but it was not until the 1990s that the first commercially available lithium batteries came on the market. Those were very small batteries, primarily designed for the photographic industry.
In 1985 a rechargeable and more stable version of the very first lithium battery was commercialised by Sony and released publicly in 1991; and In 1997 the first lithium-polymer batteries were introduced, followed by lithium-ion batteries. The first batteries, both strong enough and light enough to be used in aviation, appeared for power applications in 2005-2006.
2.) The Taurus Electro carried 80kg of batteries. It was accepted by the market with strong sales from 2007 through to late 2011. In 2012 Pipistrel released the second generation of the improved electric propulsion system and the aircraft was called the Taurus Electro G2 (standing for Generation 2 of the design).
3.) In 2011 Pipistrel introduced the world’s first four-seat electric aircraft, the Taurus G4. This was a special concept aircraft, designed only to participate in the NASA Centennial Challenge series, which the Taurus G4 went on to win the largest ever monetary prize awarded in aviation history – 1.3 million USD. This one-off design of 2 fuselages, joined together with a large central platform, was battery powered and had a range of several hundred miles.
4.) Utilizing electric propulsion, Pipistrel saw an opportunity for a completely new training aircraft. The success of the piston-engine-powered Pipistrel ALPHA Trainer (2012) made it the ideal aircraft to be converted to electric propulsion. The proof-of-concept WATTsUP was a prototype plane, released in 2014.
5.) After the success of all flight tests of the WATTsUP and great interest of the aviation public, the team at Pipistrel worked hard from 2014 until the end of 2017, when the first serially produced Pipistrel ALPHA Electro was officially delivered to our customers. It became an immediate success with more than 50 orders at release.
6.) Battery-based electric propulsion just wasn’t enough for Pipistrel, because we wanted to extend the technology even further and in 2015 we designed and tested the Hypstair project. It was completed in 2017, being the world’s first hybrid-electric aviation system. It was designed to be certifiable for general aviation, utilizing an electric motor and batteries, as well as a supplemental Rotax thermal engine for regeneration and cruise. This serial – hybrid design produced over 200 kW of power.
7.) Hydrogen is still being explored as a power supply for electric propulsion. Already in 2016 Pipistrel entered a partnership to construct what is known as the HY4 hydrogen aircraft. The project used the original airframe which was developed for the NASA challenge series, but the complete power plant section was removed and replaced with electric and hydrogen fuel cells.
A major step towards electric powered air travel was achieved on 9th February 2016 with first the power-up of the world’s most powerful hybrid electric powertrain for aviation in a project led by Pipistrel.
The aircraft then accomplished its successful maiden flight on 29. September 2016 as the world’s first four-seat passenger aircraft, powered by a zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell propulsion.
It was successfully flown for the second time in 2017 at the Stuttgart airport in Germany.
8.) In 2017, Pipistrel became the coordinator of the EU project MAHEPA (Modular Approach to Hybrid Electric Propulsion Architecture). The project connected 7 high-tech industry and university partners with the goal to develop key technology for market implementation of future hybrid-electric airplanes. By adopting a modular approach to propulsion system components design, two variants of hybrid-electric powertrains were developed:
1) system which relies on fuel cells to produce power enabling zero-emission flight, using the Hy4 aircraft. Data from flight tests are intended for use to model future operating scenarios of hybrid electric aviation.
2) a biofuel-driven generator to charge the batteries and power the electric motor which uses the airframe of Pipistrel’s Panthera.
9.) In the meantime, the Taurus Electro design wasn’t sleeping, either. Despite constant good sales thought the years, the design was improved in 2018: we released the Taurus Electro G2.5, which features additional improvements and utilizes a selection of technologies, which were originally introduced with another one of the Pipistrel’s best-sellers: the Alpha Electro program.
10.) Pipistrel developed the first electric engine for commercial use on General Aviation aircraft, fully certified by EASA in 2020. The E-811 engine combines a liquid-cooled electric motor and a liquid-cooled power controller. Offering 57.6 kW (77 hp) of peak power, and 49.2 kW (66 hp) of maximum continuous power, the E-811 is the ideal powerplant for powered sailplanes, UL, LSA and VLA aircraft, where a Type-certified engine is required. The motor’s rotation direction is not factory selected and can be easily adapted to any given application – it may be installed on other Part-23 Level 1 aircraft.
11.) Meanwhile, the batteries have been improving, too. The PB345V124E-L certified battery pack is a liquid-cooled battery pack designed for powering electric vehicles. The battery pack is constructed of cylindrical Li-ion type cells which use the NMC chemistry (Nickel-Manganese-Cobalt). It is equipped with a venting channel and a venting exhaust in the rear side of the battery.
A liquid-cooled battery pack designed for powering electric air vehicles
12.) In 2020, the Pipistrel Velis Electro became the world’s first (and as of December 2021, still the only) electric aircraft to receive a full type-certificate by EASA. It is the first ever electric-powered aeroplane, certified and fully approved for pilot training in Day VFR operations.
13.) Together with Green Motion (Aaton) Pipistrel developed the SkyCharge, a universal, future-proof, environmentally friendly turnkey charging technology for electric airplanes. This new charging infrastructure is approved by EASA and is the first charging station for electric airplanes with smart grid functionalities, being Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) ready.
14.) MAHEPA 1 – Hy4
In November 2020, the Hy4 hydrogen powered hybrid-electric aircraft successfully took-off from Maribor airport, Slovenia, and achieved a landmark milestone for the MAHEPA project. With the redefined and optimized fuel cell system technology and in strong cooperation with multiple national projects, the Hy4 became the most powerful hydrogen fuel-cell-driven aircraft even made.
First qualification tests and data dissemination show that the fully redundant Hy4 powertrain architecture allows an upscaling of the modular technology.
15.) MAHEPA 2 – Panthera Hybrid
In mid-October 2021 the MAHEPA consortium with the hybrid-electric variant of the Pipistrel Panthera aircraft successfully completed the next phase of the flight test campaign. With experiences gained using a hybrid powertrain in previous projects (Hypstair), the MAHEPA delivered a new, optimized propulsion components with increased power and reliability, suitable for in-flight testing and future commercial deployment to small aircraft. The “MAHEPA Panthera” or the Panthera Hybrid was integrated with the novel, SAF-capable, hybrid-electric powertrain developed during the project: a fuel-driven generator to charge the batteries and power the electric motor. It took-off from Cerklje airport in Slovenia and successfully demonstrated the possibility of local zero-emission flights.
PIPISTREL’S DISTRIBUTED ELECTRIC PROPULSION PROJECTS
16.) Personal Air Vehicle concept
Pipistrel began looking into different functionalities that could be unlocked by installing multiple small electric motors onto an aircraft. Because of the light-weight and power-dense nature of electric motors, the conceptual direction of a personal-air-vehicle, capable of vertical take-off and landing, was pursued. This single-person concept, intended for personal transportation as well as leisure flights, was the precursor of Pipistrel’s involvement into the Uber Elevate project. It already featured advanced DEP power management and fly-by-wire control system logic, 5 years ahead of its time.
17.) Uber has signed a partnership with Pipistrel as the only European OEM for large-scale deployment of electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing vehicles (VTOLs) in a mission of providing a safe, reliable mobility options on demand in cities around the world. Pipistrel’s eVTOL stays ahead of the competition with its proprietary propulsion system; its cruise-efficient shape will amplify impact of more powerful batteries on aircraft range, speed and payload.
At 2nd UBER elevate summit (California, 8 May 2018) Pipistrel revealed the new eVTOL Concept and strategic partnership with Elan,
At the 3rd UBER Elevate conference (Washington, D.C. on 11. June 2019), our director of Research & Development, dr. Tine Tomažič was a keynote speaker and presented Pipistrel’s new project: the 801 eVTOL.
18.) The Nuuva V300 is a long-range large-capacity heavy-weight autonomous eVTOL UAV for logistics and aerial cargo delivery. It features a hybrid-electric powertrain with dedicated lift&cruise propulsion systems. It uses 8 independent battery-powered Pipistrel E-811 certified electric engines for vertical propulsion in take-off and landing, so it requires no runways. It offers 10 times lower operating cost than today’s helicopters, but it is compatible with standard helicopter landing pads. After lift-off, it provides Fully autonomous flight, by a highly reliable, triple-redundant Flight Control System. It carries payloads of up to 460 kg (1,000 lb) in a 3 m3 (106 ft3) cargo compartment. The smaller version, Nuuva V20, shares the same architecture and advantages of the larger V300, but is designed as a lightweight cargo courier for payloads of up to 20 kg.
19.) Pipistrel’s 19-seat Miniliner is a new concept of zero-emission airplane within the 20-seat size class, capable of operating quietly from runways shorter than 1 km, including grass airstrips at small aerodromes. These airplanes have the potential of connecting currently unserved populations at 100 to 800 km range, but also catering for microfeeder services from small airports to large hubs.
It features propulsion based on hydrogen fuel cells and allows the Direct Operating Cost reduction of 30-40%. It will deliver a leading solution for future small regional aircraft that will enable clean, fast, and cost-effective transportation.
PIPISTREL’S DISTRIBUTED ELECTRIC PROPULSION PROJECTS
20.) LEAPtech HEIST Power Architecture and Testing
In 2014 NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center (AFRC) developed a Hybrid-Electric Integrated Systems Testbed (HEIST) as part of the HEIST Project, to study power management and transition complexities, modular architectures, and flight control laws for turbo-electric distributed propulsion technologies using representative hardware and piloted simulations. Capabilities were developed to assess the flight readiness of hybrid electric and distributed electric vehicle architectures.
21.) Pipistrel developed and produced redundant battery packs, each with 14 high-power Li-Ion battery modules with a capacity of 18.6kWh for a 260 kW Siemens electric aircraft motor. They were installed in an Extra 330LE aerobatic airplane, which on June 24th 2016 set the new world climb performance record: it reached the altitude of 3,000 meters in just 4 min 22 sec. The record has been confirmed by FAI.
22.) In 2016 NASA designed a test stand to explore the use of electric propulsion on aircraft. The 13.5-foot tall Airvolt test stand helped NASA to understand electric propulsion and gain experience with either commercial off-the-shelf, or custom-designed systems. Test operations were done with Pipistrel’s electric propulsion system and a propeller, which were mounted onto the top of the NASA’s test stand and equipped with instruments to collect data.
Pipistrel’s propulsion system on the NASA Airvolt test stand
And the story goes on…