‘Future of flight could just be battery powered – I went on one-hour trip over London’


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Flight sharing company Wingly is now offering sightseeing tours around London in the two-seater Pipistrel Velis Electro— the first legal electric aircraft and worth £167,000

Dan Hall tries out the worlds first certificated all electric aircraft
Reporter Dan Hall tries out the worlds first certificated all electric aircraft

Electric cars, fine. I’m all for going as green as possible transport-wise. Battery powered buses, I’ll hop on. Electric cruise liners, all aboard.

Until I was told my next reporting assignment would be a flight in the world’s first legal electric plane – then I was all for going a deathly white.

WATT?! I’m terrified of flying at the best of times so the thought of being thousands of feet from terra firma in a light aircraft with the reassuring rumble of a fossil fuel engine replaced by the Silence of the Amps, didn’t charge me with confidence.

Wingly, a flight sharing company, is now offering sightseeing jaunts in a two-seater Pipistrel Velis Electro— the first electric aircraft certified by the EU’s Aviation Safety Agency.

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Owner and pilot Deepak Mahajan runs the London Airsports centre
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Image:

Phil Harris)

Instead of a noisy, gas-guzzling motor, the Velis Electro – worth about £167,000 – is powered by two lithium-ion battery packs, each containing 1,152 cells which bear an alarming resemblance to the AAs in your telly remote.

It takes around an hour to charge fully, giving the plane enough juice to fly for an hour – making it perfect as a training aircraft.

And so I arrived at the Damyns Hall Aerodrome in Upminster, East London with anxiety-powered butterflies – needing no charge at all – airborne in my stomach.







Dan Hall and Deepak Mahajan ready to take off
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Image:

Phil Harris)

Chief flight instructor Deepak Mahajan, 67 –who owns two of the electric planes – assures me there’s no need to worry.

And with more than 15,000 flying hours under his belt, I reckon I should be in safe hands.

Still, without a Wetherspoons nearby to serve the nerve-settling Stella usually integral to my pre-flight routine, I’m feeling slightly uneasy.

Deepak says there are only minor differences with fossil fuel aircraft. “The biggest selling point is it’s quiet,” he adds.

I sit next to him in the cockpit unsure whether or not he’s started the thing.







Just over 2% of all of the world’s CO2 emissions come from the aviation industry
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Image:

Phil Harris)

Then I see the propellor doing what propellors do, but with no Spitfire-like bangs and splutters – just an eerily quiet electric whirring.

We glide down the grass runway and then, Oh my goodness, I’m airborne as one of Wingly’s first passengers on a electric sightseeing flight over the London area.

Below us I see the Queen Elizabeth II bridge and don’t need to shout this out above the noise of a prop engine.

Sighseeing can be difficult though when your eyes keep nervously twitching over to the instrument panel to see how much charge the batteries have left.







Dan got to view the sights of London
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Image:

Phil Harris)

And while I do my best to ignore intrusive thoughts of doom, it doesn’t help that the airfield is unfortunately sandwiched between a graveyard and a paintballing centre containing the fuselage of a crashed jet.

So I’m grateful when we touched down in one piece.

And no doubt the airfield’s neighbours are grateful too that a couple of the planes over their rooftops every day are the quiet, electric type.







The charge lasts for around an hour of flying
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Image:

Phil Harris)

But it’s the environment that will stands to benefit the most from the green aeroplane revolution.

Current estimates say a little over 2% of all of the world’s CO2 emissions come from the aviation industry.

Deepak added: “We’ve reduced our flying school’s carbon footprint by 50% simply by swapping two petrol engine aircraft for two electric engine aircraft.”







The Velis Electro is powered by two lithiumion battery packs
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Image:

Phil Harris)

Sooner or later our blue skies will have to get a little bit greener if we’re going to cut carbon emissions.

But I can definitely say that, for nervous flyers like me, I’d still rather stick to being grounded than flying electric.

Electric sightseeing flights can be booked at wingly.io for £177 per passenger.

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