George Bye Addresses the Future of His Electric Airplanes

CEO believes technology can help solve the pilot shortage problem.

bye aerospace sun flyer 4
The Sun Flyer 4 in flight.Bye Aerospace

Bye Aerospace might just become the first U.S. company to certify an all-electric airplane in the normal category under Part 23 if the targeted mid- to late 2020 deadline holds to earn agency approval of the two-place Sun Flyer 2 and the four-place Sun Flyer 4. But Bye Aerospace’s reason to keep moving forward toward certification is not necessarily driven by a need to win an award as the industry’s first, as much as the need to get the new planes out into the business world. CEO George Bye said the company holds 220 combined deposits for the Sun Flyer 2 and the Sun Flyer 4.

In a Monday news conference at NBAA in Orlando, George Bye said there’s already a clear business case for the Sun Flyer 2; to substantially reduce the cost of learning to fly. One of the most often heard comments about flight training is the high price, a serious hurdle the industry faces in the growing shortage of pilots, and a problem exacerbated by a training fleet that averages more than 50 years in age. Bye said the Sun Flyer 2 could easily reduce the hourly fuel/electricity cost of a training aircraft to as little as $3, versus more than $50 for a traditional avgas powered machine.

The Sun Flyer 2 is undergoing installation of a new Siemens electric powerplant “about the size of a stack of pancakes,” that weighs between 40-50 pounds and includes a 10,000-hour mean time between failures. Technology trends have increased the power output on the Sun Flyer 2 motor from about 100 kW at the aircraft’s onset, to 260 kW today, Bye added. He reminded the audience that the Sun Flyers are not Prius kind of vehicles, but rather Teslas, that will allow the Sun Flyer 2, for example, to cruise for up to 3.5 hours on a single charge with a 440 pound payload.

“It’s not just about batteries and motor,” Bye said when he explained the sleek new design of the aircraft. The smooth sleek nose of an electric aircraft also reduces drag by half, which means much less power is needed to keep the airplane in the air. “When you can cut the thrust required by a factor of three, you begin to change the world,” Bye said. The structural weight of the Sun Flyer 2 is also half that of a Cessna 172. Bye said the low environmental footprint of the Sun Flyers is also an important selling point. “The aircraft is almost undetectable overhead at 500 feet.” Bye says the noisiest part of the Sun Flyers are the props at the moment. There are also no concerns about Co2 emissions or leaded avgas.

Bye sees the higher performance Sun Flyer 4 as the perfect four-seat machine to provide on-demand air taxi service. The 165-knot cruise-speed Sun Flyer 4 includes a comfortable 46-inch cabin width and an 850-pound payload with a full airframe ballistic recovery parachute and four hours of range. Bye said the payload capability, coupled with projected flight speed and modest, but capable, range is key to on-demand air services.

“Current research confirms that we are on the leading-edge of a revolutionary transition to electric aviation,” Bye said. “The momentum is growing at an extraordinary pace. Despite the exciting progress, however, Bye Aerospace maintains safety as our absolute top priority across all of our programs. We are adhering to the discipline, focus and maturity required to successfully implement such a sweeping transformation.”

The Sun Flyer 2 is expected to retail for $289,000, not including the charger. The Sun Flyer 4 costs $389,000. The prototype Sun Flyer 2 completed its first flight at Centennial Airport on April 10.