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Textron reports electrification progress

With eAviation’s acquisition of Slovenia-based Pipistrel in the spring, the company immediately added four progressive designs that form the centerpiece of its product line.

Pipistrel’s Rotax-powered Alpha is a popular two-seat trainer in Europe flown under light sport aircraft rules in the United States. Its Velis Electro is an electrically powered two-seater certified in Europe under the European Union Aviation Safety Agency’s CS-LSA rules. However, as yet there is no provision in the U.S. federal aviation regulations to certify electrically powered airplanes. “That’s something we’re all working on changing,” Scholl said, referring not just to Textron but to several general aviation advocacy groups.

Also acquired in the deal is Pipistrel’s Surveyor, an autonomous intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance airplane powered by a Rotax engine. The Surveyor’s maximum endurance is 30 hours, Scholl said.

The Panthera, a sleek, Lycoming-powered, 200-knot, 800-nautical-mile-range piston single is currently sold in the United States and operated under an experimental certificate. Scholl said that the Panthera’s U.S. certification under FAR Part 23 is expected in 2024. A hybrid-electric version is planned for the United States, after which a pure electric variant may be pursued.

The autonomous, cargo-carrying Nuuva V300—capable of flying a 600-pound payload 300 nm—is expected to have its first flight in 2023. It uses Velis Electro electric engines and an array of eight propellers.

The other participant in the eAviation group is Textron’s own Bell (formerly Bell Helicopter), which is developing its Nexus eVTOL. A 120-knot, 100-nm aircraft that can carry four and will have a max takeoff weight of 8,000 pounds, the Nexus prototype is being built at Textron’s Wichita, Kansas, campus. First flight is anticipated in “a couple of years,” Scholl said.

Speaking of certification and the challenges of bringing new product lines to market, Scholl said, “There will be challenges along the way, but with Textron’s expertise we are the best-positioned company to succeed in this segment.”

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