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All-electric Zenith "Sky Jeep" completes first flight, with plans to transport doctors and medical supplies in remote areas of the world
A pioneering UK aviation project aimed at bringing healthcare to some of the most remote parts of the world is a step closer to take-off after its first flight on January 20, 2023.
NUNCATS is developing the ‘electric sky jeep’, an all-electric Zenith CH 750 Cruzer with big tires, to provide sustainable transportation to deliver doctors, teachers and medical supplies to remote communities across the world.
The British community interest company plans to tap into ground-based networks of solar powered energy grids in remote towns and villages so that the aircraft can fly between villages delivering vital medical staff and supplies, without reliance on outside fuel (needing to be flown in).
The successful test flight is a significant step forward for the project, and an ongoing test program will continue to establish range, endurance, payload and performance figures in different battery/weight configurations.
Using the proven and popular Zenith CH 750 platform, the aircraft is well suited for "off-airport" operations, and can be flown in and out of much smaller (shorter) runways than typical general aviation aircraft, and often in "unimproved" (non-paved) runways such as grass or dirt landing fields.
NUNCATS is the brainchild of UK-based husband and wife team Tim and Helen Bridge (above), who founded the company in 2019. Following the first flight, Tim Bridge, who has extensive experience in renewable electric energy projects, stated: “Nobody else is building electric aircraft in this way. Our aim is to provide a low-cost, rugged and practical aircraft for use in rural and hard to reach communities, such as medics in Uganda and doctors in rural India.
“As soon as funding allows, we hope to move towards getting this into communities where it can make a real difference. There are currently a billion people in the world with no access to healthcare...” [Electrek, 1/24/2023]
The Electrek article points out that NUNCATS still has a lot of work ahead "to achieve its goal of saving lives around the world through clean and nimble aviation. The project is still seeking backers and sponsors to help fund its development. The “electric sky jeep” kits can also be purchased as a greener option for sports flyers."
Quoted in Aerospace Testing International magazine following the maiden flight, test pilot Tim Kingsley stated, “I’m very happy with how today went. It was cold out there, there was a bit of crosswind, but everything went really well.
"I’m delighted to be involved in this project and although it is still at its very early stages the vision is a really exciting one. There’s nothing like this anywhere else in the world.
“I’ve seen first-hand the challenges some of these communities face and harnessing natural energy in such a way could make a real difference to so many people’s lives.” [Aerospace Testing International, 1/24/2023]
NUNCATS (No Unnecessary Novelty Community Air Transport) is a non-profit organization based in the United Kingdom (UK) that has been building an electric “sky jeep” for the last three years. They have partnered with kit manufacturer Zenith Aircraft Company and several start-up investors, and have taken an existing platform, the Zenith CH 750 Cruzer light sport aircraft design, and adapted it for all-electric operation.
"While we all know that today's battery technology will not permit the range and endurance available with ICE [internal combustion engines], there are some clear advantages of electric power in addition to the more obvious sustainability claims," explained Sebastien Heintz, president of Zenith Aircraft Company. "The simplicity of electric motors has the potential to make light aircraft propulsion systems more reliable and easier to install and maintain (especially important for amateur aircraft builders and owners), and near-instantly available torque of electric power can further improve upon the STOL (short take-off and landing) performance of Zenith kit aircraft designs."
"Furthermore, projects like NUNCATS demonstrate that forward-thinking innovation finds new uses and applications by combining these technologies [airframe design, electric propulsion and ground based solar charge stations] to address real needs around the world in ways that have not been possible before. Zenith aircraft are designed to be simple and reliable, very affordable, and for great short off-airport (STOL) capability. We're thrilled to see the proven Zenith designs being used for this, and anticipate that amateur kit builders will soon be able to access this technology for their light aircraft projects, here and around the world."
Last year NUNCATS also teamed-up with UK air charter company SaxonAir, the International Aviation Academy Norwich, Action Community Enterprises (ACE), East Coast College and Vattenfall to give young people (aged 16 to 25) the opportunity to start building an aircraft (from a Zenith kit) at a free STEM aviation summer school. The youth-built aircraft will become their second flight-ready 'electric sky jeep' while also providing an excellent hands-on learning opportunity to the youth aircraft builders.
February 1, 2023 Update:
NUNCATS has publicly announced today that it has received funding from the UK Civil Aviation Authority’s “Reach for the Skies Challenge Fund” to establish STEM facilities at Old Buckenham Airfield and to continue the student led build of the summer-school aircraft that was started last year. A two-seat Zenith CH 750, the plane will be completed as the second of the electric sky jeeps, based on the prototype now being flight tested.
Sebastien Heintz, president of the Zenith Aircraft Company, (who are partners in the program), commented:
“It's wonderful to see youth (our future pilots, engineers, mechanics, and leaders) playing a major role in the development of the "electric sky jeeps" program, which is defining the future of light aviation.
"We have had only wonderful experiences working with youth-build projects. Building an entire airplane, from start to finish, exposes youth to STEM in a motivational and integrated manner that will ignite awe and wonder in minds of those lucky enough to be involved in this project."
This electric sky jeep academy will not only provide experience and training to a diverse range of learners but will also demonstrate a model by which low cost, kit form electric aircraft can be delivered across the world.
Tim Bridge, co-founder of NUNCATS said:
"Students jump at the opportunity to work on projects like this. With such a simple airframe, and our modular power systems, there is no good reason why programmes like this should not be used to help deliver affordable light aircraft for owner-operators in the NGO and charity space."
Using both the student-built plane, and the existing NUNCATS prototypes, students at all levels will be given the opportunity to get involved. Experience ranging from basic tool skills and entry level STEM right through to advanced manufacturing techniques, computational fluid dynamics, analysis of flight test data, and the operation of off-grid EV chargers.
UK Transport Secretary Mark Harper said:
"Innovation propels aviation and for it to face up to tomorrow’s challenges it needs an open and diverse workforce that can bring fresh ideas and ways of working.
"Our Reach for the Sky Challenge Fund recipients will be key to that, inspiring the next generation into the sector and helping to build an aviation workforce fit for the future."
To find out more visit www.nuncats.org
[All photos courtesy of NUNCATS]