RAF Latest Air Force to Trial Electric Aircraft

The Royal Air Force (RAF) is the latest European flying service to trial electrically powered aircraft as basic flight trainers. During a series of tests in late 2021 and early 2022 RAF personnel performed flights aimed at testing the “concept” of electric aircraft. While the United Kingdom currently has no plans to buy such aircraft, both Denmark and Slovenia are pressing ahead with the procurement of Pipistrel Velis Electro aircraft to support their pilot training efforts. 

The Electro is manufactured in Italy and Slovenia by Pipistrel, which was recently acquired by the American aviation giant Textron, and is the first electric aircraft to receive a European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) type rating. 

Ministry of Defence and RAF personnel stand alongside a Pipistrel Velis Electro (Crown Copyright)

The Electro seats two people abreast and is powered by a single electric motor. The burgeoning technology currently has a somewhat limited endurance, able to stay aloft for just under an hour and recharging the batteries takes twice as long. Like other light aircraft, the Electro is fitted with an emergency parachute. 

Slovenia has procured five aircraft, in addition to simulators and company-provided training services, while Denmark has bought just two. While touting the aircraft’s green credentials, both nations are also emphasising its affordability, with savings of 30-50% promised. 

Slovenian officials with an Electro simulator from Pipistrel (Slovenian Ministry of Defence)

Trainers are, of course, only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to military emissions. However, as electric aircraft technologies matures and costs continue to drop, available electric aircraft options will likely increase and we’ll see growing interest from among the world’s air forces. Initially many of these aircraft will probably be trainers like the Electro, however, over time their mission set will likely grow. At the same time electrically-and hybrid-powered UAVs, like the Elbit Skylark 3, are also being developed.