Ampaire Continues Hybrid-Electric Research with a NASA Feasibility Study

With a green light, Ampaire and its partner Ikhana will begin modifying a 19-seat Twin Otter.

Twin Otter airplane over a beach
Should NASA choose Ampaire to continue the demonstration project, the company will use a Twin Otter similar to this one.Wikipedia Commons/Timo Breidenstein

Ampaire has launched a NASA-funded feasibility study to learn if the venerable Twin Otter can be efficiently modified to use a hybrid-electric propulsion system. Ampaire and Ikhana are collaborating on the NASA project to evaluate various hybrid diesel/electric configurations for the aircraft, and to develop cost, schedule and risk mitigation plans for a further phase of aircraft development. Ampaire believes the hybrid Twin Otter will unlock groundbreaking capabilities for civil and government customers.

The 14,000-lb Twin Otter would produce over 1 megawatt of total power and carry up to 19 passengers and cargo while achieving dramatically reduced fuel consumption while also reducing emissions. This research effort draws on Ampaire’s and Ikhana’s flight test and technology development on two Ampaire Electric EEL six-seat flight demonstrator aircraft, which are Cessna 337 twins modified for hybrid electric power.

Ampaire CEO Kevin Noertker said the company’s “study of the aviation market indicates that one-third of aviation emissions are accounted for by route segments of less than 1,000 kilometers. We have the technology today to address these route segments, on aircraft up to 19-seats while hybrid electric solutions will come for larger aircraft in the longer term. We can have a hybrid electric Twin Otter in service in just a few years. That is what makes this first phase of work for NASA groundbreaking. This research will have broad application beyond just the Twin Otter platform.”

Ampaire product manager Brice Nzeukou told Flying at NBAA in Las Vegas, "Part of the NASA study is to determine what is the least risky approach to the propulsion system might be; which is the most optimal configuration. We need to understand all the tradeoffs. Maybe the electric propellers will be at the wingtips on the Twin Otter, or at the nacelles, or even nose-mounted. But the two power sources would remain completely independent."

While Ampaire begins work on the new NASA study, the company continues to progress with its hybrid-electric demonstration using the Cessna 337 Skymaster that is slated to begin short-range testing in Hawaii during the first quarter of 2020. Nzeukou said the 337 will undergo a number of modifications before those test flights begin. For example, "In the second iteration of the Skymaster, the electric motor will be in front."