George Bye

Founder, Chairman and CEO, Aero Electric Aircraft Corp., and Bye Aerospace, Centennial Airport, Denver

An engineering graduate of the University of Washington and an indefatigable entrepreneur, Bye has immersed himself in aviation for decades. He was a U.S. Air Force instructor pilot flying T-38s and C-141s and, once in mufti, began designing aircraft and developing businesses. In 2007, he created Bye Aerospace, an engineering services organization, with a special concentration on various unmanned aerial vehicle projects. To exploit recent advances in battery and solar technology, Bye founded AEAC in 2014 with the goal of putting an all-electric trainer aircraft into production.

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Your company had been developing electric propulsion for a Cessna 172. What became of that?

Bye: That was a great R&D project and helped us strategically. It helped us conclude that for a solar electric aircraft to be successful, it needs to take full advantage of the latest in structures, aerodynamics, and solar and motor technologies — a combination that exists in the Sun Flyer. The idea of working with a legacy airplane is appealing in theory, but it creates too many headaches in terms of weight and design efficiency, among other things. Purpose built is the way to go.

But isn’t the Sun Flyer a modification as well?

Bye: We have a license agreement and engineering contract with Calin Gologan's PC-Aero to incorporate the work he's done in Germany on the Elektra One, which we've modified with new landing gear, prop and instrumentation and are using as a technology prototype. That has helped give our program a quick start. A two-seat prototype is under construction now and we expect to fly it before year-end. It will feature four Panasonic lithium-ion battery packs and solar panels on the wings, horizontal tail and behind the canopy.

What’s the Sun Flyer’s advantage over existing aircraft?

Bye: For starters, it takes only $1 of electricity to fly it for an hour! That energy cost calculation should help revitalize general aviation. It’s logistically independent in that you don’t need to go buy avgas ever again. The solar panels energize the batteries whenever the sun is shining in the air or on the ground. How cool is that? Alternately, for high ops tempo flight schools, you can switch out depleted batteries with fully charged ones in a matter of minutes. The aircraft is almost silent when operating and it produces zero emissions — two important considerations in metropolitan areas. Flight schools desperately need this product.

Whoa! Flight schools can’t operate light sport aircraft.

Bye: This is not an LSA! It will be a certified aircraft under FAR Part 21.17b for day and night VFR operation. We’ve been consulting closely with the FAA on this, and those folks have made absolutely extraordinary efforts to accommodate us. We expect certification two years after the prototype begins flying and to deliver a production aircraft a year after that. Our target price is $200,000. By the way, Spartan College has already signed for the first 20 Sun Flyers. In addition, a Centennial Airport-based school, Independence Aviation, also just recently signed on.

Who’s going to build them and are larger models planned?

Bye: Our business plan is to take this important project through certification. Meanwhile, I’m giving courtesy briefings on our progress to friends in the industry. We’ll concentrate on the two-seater initially and will explore regenerative features and other new technologies. Follow-on products are important, but that’s a ways off.