Revolution in the regional category

With serious market opportunities, through the right technical base, the world needs zero-emission smaller passenger carriers – this is the essence of Pipistrel’s development concept, which has now been reported by the Slovenian manufacturer. In the Miniliner category, it promises clean, fast and economical operation. Pipistrel is an important pioneer of new aviation technologies in Europe. The company’s small planes also fly around the world with a number of conventional propulsion systems. But the Slovenians ’peculiar experimental aircraft, the Taurus, made from two assembled glider fuselages and the electric motor and propeller built between them, won NASA’s Green Flight Challenge in 2011.

In 2015, Pipstrel was close to being the first to fly its aircraft across the English Channel with a purely electric propulsion, but the engine supplier Siemens unexpectedly blocked the attempt, making the Airbus E-Fan the winner. Then last summer came the next big breakthrough: for the first time in the world, it managed to win a type license, now with a self-built engine, an electric-powered aircraft, the Velis Electro, received orders primarily from flying schools. However, the Miniliner is already a major step up in regional aviation, according to the company. Designed for 20 passengers, the aircraft is designed to fly up to 1,000 kilometers; the number of passengers is twenty, the track requirement is very favorable, only a thousand meters, which can be unpaved, grassy as well. Where transport is more predestined for this, it offers a cheap connection between smaller settlements and would be an ideal loading machine, ie it could transport passengers from smaller settlements to larger airports for medium or long-haul flights.

However, the drive doesn’t quite represent the line that Pipistrel has represented so far. The Slovenian company is working on Minilineren as part of two European-funded projects. One is INIFIER19, which brings together university research, and the other is the MAHEPA project on Modular Approach to Hybrid-Electric Propulsion Architecture. However, the development is not only about the hybrid-electric regional aircraft of the future, but also about the operational background, the equipment of the airports, the flight procedures, the necessary regulatory regulations, ie the entire infrastructure behind the new propulsion systems. The propulsion for this regional passenger carrier will therefore not be a “smooth” electric but a hydrogen-based hybrid. Most of the aircraft now operating in this category are propeller-gas turbines using kerosene, compared to which direct operating costs would be 30 to 40 percent lower, and modern flight control systems also allow single-pilot flight.

The only fantasy drawing published so far shows an interesting construction, with a split vertical guide plane, presumably the hydrogen tank and the power generator would be placed in the rear of the trunk because the inlet above the trunk leads here. And the electric motors with propellers are shown in an interesting, above-the-wing layout as on the successful business machine, the HondaJet, which is also an environmentally friendly solution, the noise of the propellers is at least partially shaded by the wing itself. Pipistrel plans to commission the Miniliner by 2028-30. The announcement is also interesting because it characterizes the contradictions of the current situation. While aviation has bottomed out in these months, developments continue: the sector may now be under even greater pressure to make aviation more environmentally friendly and economical as the crisis subsides.

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