The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

Ampaire Starts UK Hybrid-electric Flight Trials in Scotland

Ampaire today launched the next phase of development work for its plans to convert aircraft to hybrid-electric propulsion when its Electric EEL technology demonstrator made the 35-mile flight from Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands to Wick on the Scottish mainland. The converted six-seat Cessna 337 Skymaster is being used for trials intended to demonstrate the feasibility of using hybrid-electric propulsion to support regional airline services.

These flight trials are being supported by funding from the UK government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund for a project called the Sustainable Aviation Test Environment (SATE) that is being led by Scotland’s Highlands and Islands Airport Limited. Once these are complete, the Ampaire team will take the Electric EEL to the far southwest of the UK, where it will conduct further demonstration flights between Exeter and Cornwall as part of the Towards Zero Emissions in Regional Aircraft Operations (2ZERO) project.

“Today’s flight to Wick went without a hitch, flying at 3,500 feet and 120 miles an hour,” explained Ampaire test pilot Justin Gillen. “The Electric EEL is easy to fly and we’ve achieved a total of five hours here so far.”

Kirkwall Airport in the Orkney Islands is the operations base for the UK’s first low-carbon aviation test center. The SATE project is part of the wider Future Flight Challenge, established by the UK Research and Innovation agency to stimulate the development of low-carbon aviation technologies, as well as investigating the airport infrastructure needed to support sustainable aviation.

Although the Orkneys are not far from the Scottish mainland, current air services are quite limited and inconvenient. It is hoped that electric aviation might provide a way to connect more remote communities in a more cost-effective and environmentally sustainable way.

“The Kirkwall test center and companies like Ampaire put Scotland at the forefront of the transition to low-carbon aviation,” said Scottish transport minister Graeme Dey. “These demo flights are an important step towards delivering our commitment to decarbonizing scheduled passenger flights within Scotland by 2040.”

The Highlands and Islands Airport Ltd runs 11 airports across Scotland, providing transport connections with remote communities such as Tiree, Shetland, Islay, the Outer Hebrides, and Caithness. Westray is the starting point for the world’s shortest scheduled service to the nearby island of Papa Westray—a distance just under two miles and a flight time of barely one minute. Several other islands in the Orkney archipelago are connected by short flights.

In addition to scheduled passenger flights, the airports support vital services, such as support for the oil and gas industry, mail delivery, and lighthouse maintenance. Flights provide an alternative to long sea ferry services.

The second EEL prototype now flying in the UK has previously been used for trials conducted in Hawaii with Mokulele Airlines. Its longest flight to date was a 341-mile trip from Ampaire’s headquarters in Los Angeles to San Francisco.

Ampaire is aiming to develop hybrid-electric powertrains for existing regional airliners and utility aircraft in the 9- to 19-seat category. This could include ubiquitous types such as the Cessna Grand Caravan and Twin Otter. In February 2021, Surf Air Mobility, which is the electric aviation division of air travel company Surf Air, agreed to acquire Ampaire.