A former president of Cessna Aircraft is working on a project to use electric hybrid propulsion instead of aviation fuel to power light general aviation aircraft.
Charlie Johnson, the former Cessna leader, is chief operating officer and one of the founders of Bye Aerospace, and its subsidiary Bye Energy, the company heading the effort.
The project — called the Green Flight Project — was officially launched last week.
"We feel very positive about it," Johnson said.
Bye Energy will use a light aircraft as a proof-of-concept development airplane to prove that electric hybrid propulsion can power aircraft safely and economically, the company said.
Preliminary engineering is complete. The next step is the detail engineering and modification of the airplane, Johnson said.
"Electric propulsion is mature enough, we want to study it on a real airplane now," said George Bye, president and CEO of Bye Aerospace in Greenwood Village, Colo.
The aircraft is expected to fly for the first time in late fall or early next winter.
The plan is to offer electric hybrid power on a variety of aircraft, Johnson said.
The ability to offer the technology to the public is at least a couple of years away, Johnson said.
Bye Energy is developing the lightweight electric propulsion system as an alternative to the traditional gas-powered engines on light general aviation aircraft.
The electric system will be more efficient, have zero emissions and cost less to fly, the company said.
The time is right for the project with advances being made in battery technology, Johnson said.
Today, the batteries have enough capacity for an airplane to fly for more than an hour, Johnson said.
But in the next 18 months to two years, they will be advanced enough to allow three or four hours of flight time.
In addition, Bye will incorporate hybrid technology to extend an aircraft's range.
It also will incorporate photovoltaic panels that convert solar radiation to energy, although in small amounts.
Many people will question the effort, saying batteries aren't at the point to justify an electric aircraft, Johnson said.
"But with the advances being made in better technology, and where it's going to be in 18 months, we want to get it flying now rather than wait until it's mature," he said, although duration of the flights will be limited until then.
Bye, Johnson and Greg Williams, an executive with Williams International, founded Bye Aerospace in 2007.
Bye was the founder of Aviation Technology Group and designed a light twin-engine jet called the Javelin. Johnson had been president of the company.