Diamond Aircraft announced this week that it would build an electric version of its four-seat single-engine, the DA40. The electrified version is called the eDA40. There are questions galore.
But first, the deets. The eDA40 is, obviously, based on the DA40, an all-composite personal/training aircraft that’s been around for a couple of decades now. (How did that happen?) And Diamond seems to be suggesting its main use would be as a trainer. Other observers have noted that one such electric trainer, the Pipistrel Velis Electro, is already in business, with an estimated 200 of them at flight schools already.
Diamond says it plans to put the batteries in a belly pod, which makes one wonder—why? The problem with putting them in the wing, where fuel is normally kept, is that you need to access the batteries on a regular basis, and that would be a problem. Putting them in the rear seating and baggage compartment would, presumably, create a serious weight and balance issue, so the pod makes sense in both of those regards.
As far as endurance, Diamond is hoping for 90 minutes, which is not much, though it would probably suffice for most training flights, especially if they’re conducted at reduced power for the most part, which they typically are. That figure, they suggest however, is as Mark Phelps in AvWeb called it, “aspirational,” and if that’s the case, that’s a problem. Having much less endurance than 90 minutes would create a serious concern on every flight. I’ve on a couple of occasions taken off for a short repositioning flight with just over minimum reserves, and it’s not a fun feeling.
And why did Diamond choose the DA40 and not the smaller two-seat DA20? In fact, I did a double take when I read Diamond’s release about the new plane. Why would they elect to haul around the extra weight of a four-seat airframe when they have a proven two-seater in their lineup already?
Finally, is Diamond doing this because it sees a real need in the training market, and if so, where do they see that need, in noise-sensitive Europe or in the United States and Canada? In other words, is Diamond really rolling out a product and a new business/profit center, or is it doing PR in a particularly effective way? Diamond, as you might know, has a record of taking a long time on its products, and that’s a good thing in some ways. They tend to wait until it’s right (with noteworthy exceptions, namely Thielert’s hugely problematic diesel engine, I admit). I don’t know the answer to the question, and I guess it doesn’t matter. We’ll see how the program progresses. Fielding an all-electric plane is the bleeding edge of technology, and there’s no guarantee of success.
I am an environmentalist, as are most pilots, but it might be the truly committed non-aviation environmentalists who are driving the conversation on electric flight, and that presents challenges for those of us involved in practical solutions. Despite the green mandate to at least seem carbon neutral, it will be the business owners who determine the program’s success, as they will be the ones opening their wallets in hope of a technology that will free them from the gas pump, from combustion engines and all the big financial negatives related to them. If Diamond is being driven by this understanding of the future of flight training, and they very well might be, more e-power to them.
For more on Diamond Aircraft, click here: Pipistrel Velis Electro: The World’s First Certified Electric Plane