Currently reading: Sparks fly: Skoda Enyaq iV meets electric plane
How does the first certified electric plane compare to one of the UK's most popular EVs?

In my youth, I was always running out of petrol – a combination of being too tight to brim the tank and an addiction to gauge gambling.

I’ve grown out of it now. I can’t be bothered with the hassle or the reaction from my wife when the engine starts to splutter. But there’s another reason for this more mature attitude to fuel quantity, and that’s because 16 years ago I learned to fly. Early on in my flying career, I very nearly ran out of petrol while flying over mountains in Wales. I’ve never been so frightened or so relieved to be back on the ground.

Ever since, I’ve been anal about always having plenty of reserve. My aeroplane has a fuel capacity of 160 litres, which, assuming there isn’t a headwind and I select an economical power setting, will get me from London to Cannes in one hit. If it looks like I won’t have enough fuel for another 45 minutes of flying when I arrive, I will stop to refuel. That’s my rule.

This new-found super-awareness is well timed, because my road testing life these days involves regularly driving EVs. Early on in the electric revolution, I did run out of juice – in a Mitsubishi i-MiEV that turned out to have a range of less than 25 miles on a freezing-cold day. I had to be towed home behind a Ford Transit. A lesson learned, and since that day I’ve not come close to whirring to a stop – partly due to my new maturity, partly because today’s EVs have pretty good range and, more importantly, ever more accurate range prediction.

Today’s EV is a Skoda Enyaq iV. It has a 77kWh battery and an official range of 333 miles. So there’s no excuse for being stranded or, despite the UK’s poor charging network, cause for range anxiety. My task, however, has potential for terror, not just anxiety, as I’m having my first flight in an electric aeroplane. I’m not sure I understand the link between an electric family car and a similarly powered aircraft, but someone at Skoda thought it a good idea to organise an event at which journalists would drive an Enyaq and then transfer into a Pipistrel Velis Electro.

98 Skoda enyaq vs electric plane 2022 static pair


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This is the first electric aircraft to receive type certification. Built in Slovenia, it is based on the Alpha, which uses a 1.5-litre flat four with air-cooled cylinders and water-cooled heads for an output of 100bhp. That engine is made by Rotax in Austria and is the powerplant of choice for most modern lightweight aircraft. In its place in the nose of the Velis Electro is an electric motor, made in-house by Pipistrel, that produces 88bhp at take-off and drives a composite three-blade propeller.

There are two batteries, first because of the need for redundancy and also for weight and balance. Keeping weight to a minimum in a light aircraft is crucial for performance, but of equal concern is where the weight is placed. If you were to put all the batteries behind the cockpit, the centre of gravity would be way too far back. If you took off, the aircraft would immediately stall and fall back to Earth on its back. Put all the batteries ahead of the cockpit and it would try to bury itself nose first into the ground. So one battery is in between the firewall and the motor and the other is behind the cockpit.

The motor and power controller are both water-cooled by their own system. The batteries (each 12kWh) are also water-cooled and feature a radiator that is cooled by air drawn in through a scoop on the port side of the fuselage. The air is extracted via a duct under the fuselage. There’s no on-board charger because of weight, so instead the batteries are charged via a unit that needs 415V three-phase AC power.

Before we go any further, we need to talk range, or rather endurance. The Pipistrel Velis Electro has an endurance of about 45 minutes with around 15 minutes of reserve – not dissimilar to the 1960s English Electric Lightning supersonic interceptor. Its top speed, or VNE (velocity never exceed), is 108 knots and its cruising speed at 6000ft is 102 knots. Pipistrel markets the Velis Electro as a trainer, due to its limited range and endurance. UK importer Deepak Mahajan, my captain in the Velis Electro, backs this up. So far, he has sold several of the £155,000-plus-tax machines to flying schools.

The instrument panel is exactly the same as in the Alpha Pipistrel, apart from a screen for the Electric Propulsion System Indicator. This displays battery charge and battery and inverter temperatures when the aircraft is on charge; or revs, power, battery charge, time remaining, voltage, battery temperature and coolant temperatures for the motor and battery systems when it’s flying. That’s more data than you get in the Enyaq, but then in an aircraft, you need to know immediately if something is going wrong. Finally, there are a couple of panels for warning lights that will tell you if your day is about to be spoiled.

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87 Skoda enyaq vs electric plane 2022 controls 0

Let’s go. Flick on the master switch and the instrument panel comes alive and the aircraft carries out some tests on itself. When all is well, you select Power Engaged (you must have the power lever in its Cut Off position). In my aeroplane, I have to fiddle around priming the engine (it’s easy to flood it), open the throttle about an eighth of an inch, jiggle the mixture knob and then turn the ignition key. If I’m lucky, it starts first time. The 5.8-litre engine is bloody noisy and vibrates a fair bit. In the Velis Electro, you push forth the power lever and the propeller starts spinning with barely a murmur. It’s very pleasant.

Taxiing across the grass uses around 3kW of power. The pre-takeoff checks are simply selecting full power to ensure that the system is producing at least 50kW, power back to cut-off, then check the motor and battery temperatures and that both batteries are active. Full power and off we go down the runway and into the air. You’re allowed full take-off power for a maximum of 90 seconds, during which time the batteries are discharging at a terrifying rate. As they do at maximum cruising power. Ease back on the power and the range comes back to 48 minutes. It’s just the same as in an electric car but even more of a relief.

Once we’re airborne, Mahajan hands me control. Purring along almost silently, the Velis Electro feels just the same to fly as its petrol-engined brother: crisp handling, very stable and with nicely balanced controls. An experienced pilot could wander out of sight of the airfield, but for a student flying solo, this would be extremely unwise, as you would need to get lost for only a short time to put yourself in a tricky position later on.

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The Velis is extremely slippery, generating little drag. To help slow it down when approaching to land, the piston-engined version has air brakes, but they are heavy so aren’t fitted to the electric one. On top of that, there’s no engine braking, so managing your speed when you’re landing takes good judgement. The problem is that if you botch the approach to landing and have to go around again for another try, you use a lot of juice. If the charge indicator reads less than 15%, an amber caution message states ‘No Go Around Available’, and that would be hugely stressful for a student. An experienced pilot might be able to sneak around, but you wouldn’t want to be in that position. Unsurprisingly, Mahajan makes a perfect landing.

89 Skoda enyaq vs electric plane 2022 enyaq charging plane 0

A very interesting experience. No doubt as battery energy density improves, driven by developments in the car world, aircraft like the Velis Electro will get longer ranges. Even an hour with 20 minutes of reserve would make a huge difference to learning to fly in one. The minimum number of hours that you need to fly to get your private pilot licence is 45 (15 of which have to be solo). I reckon that you could probably do about 10 of them in the Velis Electro before needing to move to a piston-engined aeroplane to carry out longer flights and navigational exercises.

Not only will aircraft like this make learning to fly a bit cheaper, but their virtual silence will get around the increasing problem of noise at airfields, too. Unfortunately, though, I suspect I will be long gone before an electric light aircraft is able to fly from London to the south of France.

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It’s taking off

Amazing developments are being carried out in the world of electric aviation.

Rolls-Royce plc’s Spirit of Innovation, which has a 400kW electric propulsion system, recently set a speed record of 345.4mph over a 3km course, reaching a 387.4mph peak. And the world’s first manned electric aircraft race series will begin this year. Called Air Race E, it will feature teams from all over the world racing single-seaters very similar in design to Formula 1 racing aircraft from the late 1950s and 1960s.

Without doubt some valuable lessons will be learned for electric recreational aircraft.

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The Apprentice 24 April 2022

Surely Hydrogen is going to be the only way to sustain an air transport system in a Green world, battery/electric is never going to be viable.

Foxfour 24 April 2022

Theres isnt going to be  substantial increases in battery capacity for aviation. The cars can run out of  charge  and be fine.  A Plane will crash which is why much higher standards apply for aviation certification. The critical factor  to consider is  more weight of batteries  increases drag in a plane  which doesnt happen in a car which is why this barely useful  2 seater had to lose  some weight  from its av-gas  cousin to even make its  current capability.

xxxx 25 April 2022

Why would more weight increase drag.

Pretty good first attempt IMHO. Certainly must be nicey, quieter, cheaper to fly. Probably less likely to break down too