Aviation is one of the most energy intensive human activities. So in the race to net zero, there is worldwide interest in low carbon flight.
This summer students at the Norwich International Aviation Academy (IAAN) will be at the cutting edge of this change. At Norwich Airport, they are going to build the one of the first British electric light aircraft. This week saw the arrival at the airport of the first components.
A new partnership
The project is a new partnership: NUNCATS provide the design and specialist support; Norwich City College will provide the students; KLM (UK) will help supervise; and NORSE and Saxon Air Flight Support will provide workshop and airside space for building and testing at the airport.
The project is the idea of Tim Bridge, founder and Engineering Director of NUNCATS, who said:
“This is a great step forward for sustainable, economical electric flight, and for the careers of the students. In the long run we hope this plane will help transform light aircraft flying and contribute to Britain’s hopes for net zero. I am sure it will be a learning project for all of us. We are all looking forward to seeing this in the air.”
Norse Group Aviation Academy Manager, Alan Rampling, said:
“This is a fantastic opportunity for students. This zero-emissions aircraft project has already been a catalyst in bringing local aviation expertise to the academy. We aim to develop a ‘centre of excellence’ in electric aircraft training, putting this region at the forefront of green technology in aviation.”
Off grid charging
Most electric aircraft projects assume that the electricity will come from the national grid, competing with all other users. NUNCATS have an alternative. Using materials from Norwich firm RenEnergy, they have built a working solar charging station at Old Buckenham, with battery storage which can fully charge the NUNCATS plane in an hour.
Saxon Air are planning to install one of these solar charging stations at Norwich Airport. This will allow the aircraft to charge independently of the electricity grid, using only solar energy. NUNCATS plan to develop similar charging stations around the country to allow longer flights.
What is different about this aircraft?
Worldwide, a range of firms are experimenting with electric aircraft. But most focus on expensive, high end designs. The NUNCATS plane is different: designed to be cheap and simple, for use by aid agencies in developing countries where sunshine is plentiful, but aviation fuel is scarce and expensive. Since it is designed to be much cheaper than its competitors, it should also appeal to hobby flyers and training companies.
The company’s name explains its principles – No Unnecessary Novelty Community Air Transport System (NUNCATS). Rather than design something entirely new and untried, they are putting together a set of components – a kit form airframe, electric motor, batteries, and charging equipment – all of them already in use for other purposes. This speeds development time and reduces costs.
As a Community Interest Company, they will plough back all profits into development, and keep the price down for aid agencies and medical and rescue agencies in the global south.
Norwich students getting ready for the future
The International Aviation Academy in Norwich trains young engineers to work on conventional commercial aircraft. But electric power is likely to play a major part in aviation in the future. This project, a British first, gives young people in Norfolk a chance to start their careers not only building a real plane, but getting in on the ground of the technology of the future.