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Little Electric Planes Today, Tomorrow … Slightly Bigger Ones


Sometimes it's good to start small. Or, in the case of the all-electric Sun Flyer plane, get small as quickly as possible.

That's been the goal for George Bye, the aerospace executive behind the Sun Flyer, a two-seat craft he said aims to be flying later this year. Writing about the development of the plane in IEEE Spectrum, Bye says the secret to making all-electric flight work is a motor that weighs just 20 kilograms (45 pounds), boasts 95 percent energy efficiency, and still has enough pep to heft a load of lithium batteries along for the ride.

Bye's craft is meant to be used for training pilots—a niche he sees as a good fit for a plane that will for now remain limited to shorter flights. But his company, Bye Aerospace, has its sights set on building planes that will one day ferry commuters on short-hop and regional flights.

In that, he has some competition. As battery technology improves steadily (but slowly), a raft of companies, including startups Zunum Aero and Wright Electric but also big incumbents like Airbus, are hatching plans to build battery-powered aircraft that could one day fly 150 passengers up to 300 miles—about the distance from London to Paris. 

Despite his diminutive aircraft, Bye is definitely thinking big.