MIAMI – The Florida Institute of Technology (Florida Tech), a private research university in Melbourne, Florida, has become the first American University to own and fly an electric airplane.

In a press, release the school said that it recently purchased The Velis Electro, a two-seat aircraft manufactured by Pipistrel. The aircraft was introduced last year and is the first electric-powered airplane certified in Europe.

The Velis Electro has a maximum speed of 181 km/h (113 mph, 98 knots). It produces zero emissions, and at 60 decibels, it is quieter than the engine-engine Cessna 172 (85 decibels). The body is made of composite materials. The plane costs US$190,000.

The plane has not yet received certification in the US, so the university is flying it as an experimental craft.

The Velis Electro. Photo Pipistrel

Low Operating Costs

According to the release, the pilot for the inaugural flight was Florida Tech alumnus and former associate dean Isaac Silver. He flew for 22 minutes, using about a third of the aircraft’s battery capacity. This created an operating cost of only US$1.03.

The plane is enhancing Tech students’ education in that they can test and evaluate a new type of aircraft. “While we can teach students flight test techniques using older aircraft, having them test an airplane with the latest technology prepares them for contemporary designs,” said Brian Kish, Flight Test Engineering program chair and aerospace associate professor.

Video from Florida Tech University

FAA Involvement

The FAA has an interest in this aircraft and is working with the University to record data during the plane’s testing period. In fact, the University says that the Agency is in the process of awarding the school an $85,000 contract to provide data from the first 50 flight hours of the Velis Electro.

Kish said the first thing the team will do during early flights is to ensure they’re getting the performance that the plane’s manufacturer promised. The team will test the different power settings during the plane’s cruising period.

“There are different speeds, whether you use 20 kilowatts, up to 36 kilowatts for cruising. Obviously the more power you should go a little faster,” Kish said. “So, we’re going to spot check all those cruise settings and see what airspeed we get and see how long the battery charge lasts.”

“We expect to see some drawbacks and limitations, but more importantly we expect to also see potential opportunities,” Kish said. “As the first US customer, Florida Tech will report our research findings to Pipistrel and the FAA. This initial feedback is crucial in the engineering process to evolve the design as well as assist federal regulators on developing certification and training guidelines.”

Featured image: Pipistrel Velis Electro-Light all-electric plane certified in Europe. Photo: Pipistrel