I have never been one to affiliate myself with various factions. I simply decide at
each juncture what will work best for me. In the case of powering
model aircraft I have always flown glow powered aircraft. Glow has been a better choice for me.
In the mean time, I've kept an eye on what's going on in various aspects of the
hobby to include things that I have absolutely no involvement in. I
just like to know what's going on and what I can draw from others that will
help me build better models.
One of the things I've been casually paying attention to is electric
powered planes. Until recently they have had no appeal to me for many
following have been my perceptions of electric powered model airplanes based
on what I've read and observed.
- Motors, Batteries and Speed Controllers are expensive.
- Battery Chargers are really expensive.
- Extra hatches and cooling needed which add weight while decreasing
- Performance is far below what the same plane would be with glow power
due to battery weight.
- Significant power drop-off throughout flight.
- Short flight times.
- Having to remove hatches to pull batteries out between flights.
- Waiting for batteries to charge.
- Each new installation is experimental which often means more equipment
is purchased (motor, battery or speed controller) before the airplane
One of the reasons I never got involved with electrics was comments like, "... and with this state-of-the-art equipment costing only $$$$$, we can now
get flight times of nearly 6-8 minutes with nearly half of the flight having
Every time I read something like that I laughed because my glow plane can
fly as long as there's fuel and have full power available the whole time.
In order for a model to be successful with E-power, it needed to be very
lightly loaded or experience short flight times. The high weight of
the batteries severely limited what could built. Frankly, I haven't
been very impressed with electrics.
One argument folks have made in favor of electrics is that they are less
expensive over time due to not having to purchase fuel. On the surface
and with no further thought, that makes sense. However, the airplane I
converted went from having a .15 that could run 20-40 minutes on 3 ounces of
fuel to a speed 400 with a 3-cell Li-Poly pack. The Li-Poly pack cost
nearly $100.00 - roughly the cost of 5-10 gallons of fuel depending on how
much you pay for fuel. And that still doesn't include the cost of the
motor and speed controller.
On the low end of 5 gallons and 20 minute flights, that comes to roughly
64 hours of flying. The bottom line is that I think the cost benefit
thinking of electrics is not only wrong, but a moot point as well.
On a cost and equipment basis, here's what's required:
- Engine Mount and Hardware
- Fuel Tank and Lines
- Throttle Servo and Linkage
- Radio Battery
- Glow Driver
- Fuel Pump
- Motor Mount and Hardware
- Speed Controller with BEC
- Combination Motor/Radio Battery
- Field Charger and Power Source
Of course there are solutions to a few of the problems associated with
electric flight. You could
buy multiple batteries and always have one on charge so that you never have
to wait. There are less expensive chargers available, but if you
seriously want to fly electrics than you might as well buy a good charger
which can run into hundreds of dollars.
Likewise, you could purchase less expensive motors, batteries and speed
controllers, but that only makes a poor system worse.
It's Not All Bad
Electrics have a lot going for them as well. They are
cleaner, quieter, environmentally friendly (at least at our end - who knows
what goes on at the factories that make the stuff). Personally, I
really like the not tinkering with engines part as well as the not having
oil and gunk all over me and my planes part.
Arguably the most important benefit of electrics is fewer noise
complaints made against us. As our world becomes more and more
insanely over-populated, finding and keeping places to fly has become
increasingly difficult. It used to be that I could fly on the sports
field of any local school.
Our legal system has created an environment where everyone feels they
must protect themselves which means flying at schools or other large
privately owned open areas has become a thing of the past. No one
wants to risk a possible lawsuit.
The point being that anything that helps us keep our fields or find new
ones is a good thing.