March 4, 2018 – George Bye spoke at Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum last Wednesday as part of AeroInnovate’s Denver Roadshow public event. Bye discussed his company’s innovative – and potentially disruptive – electric and solar-electric propulsion technologies in the aviation marketplace.
Bye is the CEO of Bye Aerospace, which he founded in 2007, and has two decades of experience as an aerospace entrepreneur and executive. Among his designs, which utilize advanced aerodynamics, composite structures, and alternative propulsion systems, are the “Sun Flyer” family of electric aircraft and a solar-electric hybrid, long-endurance atmospheric UAV called “StratoAirNet.”
The company’s research and development over the last decade give it a valuable head start as the first company with a FAA-certified, U.S. sponsored, all-electric airplane to serve the flight training and general aviation markets.
Over the past 30 years, very few clean sheet aircraft designs have made it to full scale production. The capital costs required to take an airplane from concept to customer delivery are overwhelming, and when the plane finally does come to market, the profit margins are generally slim. But Bye’s aircraft designs take a giant leap forward in safety and still reduce costs, which may be the perfect combination for success.
“General aviation is ready for a much-needed boost,” said Bye. “And the benefits of electric flight, including lower noise and emissions, are particularly important.”
Bye Aerospace is developing a family of electric aircraft with a low operating cost, low aircraft unit cost, low noise, and the elimination of exhaust pollutants. Electric energy, or “fuel,” cost for Sun Flyer is multiples lower compared to the per-hour cost of piston-engine leaded avgas.
If all goes as planned, the Sun Flyer 2 will be the first certified electric general aviation aircraft, with the larger Sun Flyer 4 close behind. Prototypes of both aircraft are nearing the end of the ground test stage and preparing for their first flight tests from a facility at the Northern Colorado Regional Airport near Loveland and Fort Collins, Colorado.
Training Pilots Of The Future
In 2016, a Boeing study projected that the world will need an additional 637,000 commercial airline pilots by 2035, but as a result of new safety regulations, increased requirements, and attrition through retirement, commercial airlines are projected to fall far short of the number of pilots needed. At the same time, fewer people are completing training because of the high cost of flying.
In order to meet the demand for pilots, training schools will need to gravitate toward viable, low-cost solutions — that’s where Bye Aerospace hopes to fill a critical niche.
The Sun Flyer 2 has an advertised endurance of three hours from a single charge, and since most training flights tend to occur near a single base of operations, this two-seat trainer could be the perfect platform for creating pilots of the future. Operating costs of the Sun Flyer trainer will be five times lower than an equivalent Cessna 172 – $16 an hour vs. $88 an hour. Additional savings come from the reduced maintenance and increased lifespan of an electric motor.
Some flight schools are beginning to take notice. Spartan College of Aeronautics, based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has placed a deposit for 25 of the first Sun Flyers produced to be used in its flight training department. Spartan also plans to develop a complete training syllabus for the Sun Flyer family of aircraft, including a course for airframe and powerplant (A&P) technicians to receive specialized electric maintenance training.
General Aviation Appeal
The four-seat Sun Flyer 4 was unveiled at EAA Air Venture Oshkosh 2017. Like Sun Flyer 2, Sun Flyer 4 will run completely on batteries. Features of the IFR-capable Sun Flyer 4 include a 46-inch cabin width, 38-foot wing span, ballistic parachute recovery system and a gross weight of 2,700 lbs., with 800 lbs. of payload for pilot and passengers. With four hours of flying time, the versatile Sun Flyer 4 will appeal to both flight schools and pilot-owners.
“At $5 of electricity per flight hour and under $20 operating cost per flight hour, Sun Flyer 4 will run completely on batteries, resulting in operating costs that are five times lower than costs associated with similar combustion-engine aircraft such as a Cessna 182 or Cirrus SR-20,” Bye said.
Reaching Greater Heights
Applying these same disruptive principles to satellite launch vehicles, Bye Aerospace intends to take solar-electric propulsion to even greater heights. The company is currently developing an advanced, high-altitude, long-endurance solar-electric UAV called “StratoAirNet.”
The StratoAirNet atmospheric satellite is a light-weight, carbon-composite UAV with a payload capacity of up to 70 lbs. and the ability to collect data from a persistent location in the upper atmosphere at altitudes up to 35,000 feet.
Bye Aerospace has worked collaboratively with SolAero Technologies Corp. to create the initial medium-altitude StratoAirNet 15 proof-of-concept prototype, which integrates high-efficiency solar cell technologies on a graphite composite wing. The initial wing-solar cell configuration will deliver approximately 2,000 Watts, under ideal daylight conditions, at altitude.
The StratoAirNet 15 prototype will be optionally-piloted to provide rapid qualification for customer payloads without FAA airspace restrictions that typically slow UAV and payload development and deployment. With a test pilot in the prototype aircraft, preliminary flight performance evaluation and autoflight control optimization can be accomplished at a faster pace, with greatly reduced risk.
Potential commercial mission applications for the StratoAirNet atmospheric satellite include communications relay, internet service, mapping, search and rescue, firefighting command and control, anti-poaching monitoring, damage assessment, severe weather tracking, agriculture monitoring, mineral source surveying, spill detection and infrastructure quality assessment.
The Future Looks Bright
“Battery, motor and solar cell technologies have reached a tipping point that allows us to do something revolutionary and different,” said Bye. He predicts the aircraft will have greater range within five years.
Momentum is building for Bye Aerospace and the recent completion of a key financial milestone — raising over $5 million of investment capital in its Series C round — will allow the company to have a transformational year in 2018.
“A revolution is about to happen,” said Bye. “We will be flying in the next few weeks.”