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E-plane VoltAero tests new Safran electric motors

VoltAero is testing new Safran electric motors on its Cassio e-plane. The electric-hybrid airplane has a few tricks up its sleeves.

VoltAero tested Safran’s new ENGINeUS smart electric motors on its Cassio airframe. The VoltAero electric and hybrid nine-seater is the brainchild of Jean Botti, ex-Airbus E-Fan director, and test-pilot Didier Esteyne, who handled the test flight. Both pack serious electric aviation credentials, having spearheaded Airbus’ now-defunct e-Fan aviation project. It has since been replaced by the e-Fan X project, which we’ll get into after my next interview with Airbus.

I spoke to Jean Botti over the last holiday to understand why the Cassio is so important to the emerging electric urban air mobility (UAM) industry. The Cassio is loosely based on a Cessna 337. But unlike Ampaire’s approach, the French team only uses one aft propeller and two electric motors mounted on the wings. The two wing-mounted Safran ENGINeUSes are rated at 45kW with a peak of 70kW. Safran offers up to 100kW air-cooled electric motors and up to half a MW oil-cooled electric motors. Botti told me they plan on using the 60kW motors next.

The new ENGINeUS smart electric motors were introduced at the last NBAA in Las Vegas where I had the pleasure of speaking with Hervé Blanc, executive vice president and general manager of the electrical systems and motors division at Safran Electrical & Power.

VoltAero Cassio

VoltAero Cassio

VoltAero Cassio

VoltAero Cassio

Where the front propeller is on a 337 is replaced by a coil housing the front battery pack. The rear propeller is a heavily modified Nissan V6 by French automobile racing, Solution F, a VoltAero partner. The 170kW (228 hp) engine will run on biofuel and acts as a generator for three electric Enmax motors driving the propeller shaft. The other partner is Aero Composites Saintonge (ACS). It handles prototyping and composite materials, which makes up most of the Cassio, as well as the aerospace design and electric propulsion.

The European CS-23 certified VoltAero Cassio will come in three versions. The pure electric Cassio will seat four, while the light hybrid will seat six, and the full hybrid nine. The pure electric has a range of 200 km (110 nmiles) on electricity alone. The second version can fly 200–600 km (110–320 nmi), and the third hybrid can fly over a distance of 600 km.

The Cassio is used by private owners, air taxi/charter companies, in commercial flights for point-to-point regional travel, and in various utility-category applications.

The Cassio has a unique feature: an electric front gear for quiet takeoffs. To my knowledge, it is the only aircraft that has this.

VoltAero Cassio

VoltAero Cassio

Botti told me: “This flight was important to test the new Safran engine for take-off. Although it is not the first official flight — the first official flight is March 24 with the new aerodynamics.”

This test flight proves the new Safran electric motors are up to handling the Cassio’s aerial capabilities.

He added:

I am very pleased with the testing as we accumulate time aloft and open up the aircraft’s flight envelope. The current test phase is with the powertrain for our six-seat Cassio version, to be followed by validation of the final aerodynamic and powertrain configurations on both the four- and nine-seat Cassio versions.

Esteyne enthusiastically said:

Flying on the power of Safran’s ENGINeUS motors is truly remarkable, with no vibration and extremely low noise levels. It confirms that our Cassio aircraft will bring an entirely new experience to aviation.

VoltAero Cassio

VoltAero Cassio

Blanc added:

Safran is proud to be powering the Cassio 1 aircraft as VoltAero brings a new dimension to electric aviation. We are fully committed to supporting VoltAero throughout the flight test phase and look forward to the company’s future production of Cassio aircraft.

On March 24, 1:30 p.m., French time, VoltAero is planning to unveil the definitive design for the Cassio 2 aircraft during an event at the company’s Aérodrome de Royan-Médis headquarters.

See the press release here.

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Avatar for Nicolas Zart Nicolas Zart

Nicolas was born and raised around classic 1920 cars and it wasn’t until he test drove an AC Propulsion eBox and then a Tesla Motors Roadster that the proverbial light bulb went on.

Since then, he has been covering the world of electric mobility for over a decade with a focus on electric aviation. He brings over a decade’s worth of industry deep insight with ties to industry leaders.

Nicolas is published on various outlets both in print and online, such as Electrek, the Vertical Flight Society, and Aviation International News.