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Joint Base Cape Cod exploring uses of new, fully electric aircraft

Joint Base Cape Cod Executive Director and Retired Brigadier General Christopher Faux stands in front of the fully-electric aircraft Alia after a demonstration at the 102nd Intelligence Wing.
CAI / Brian Engles
Joint Base Cape Cod Executive Director and Retired Brigadier General Christopher Faux stands in front of the fully-electric aircraft Alia after a demonstration at the 102nd Intelligence Wing.

Joint Base Cape Cod is exploring possible uses for a new, fully electric aircraft.

The 100% battery-powered Alia and its crew landed at the base’s 102nd Intelligence Wing for a demonstration on Friday, March 8.

The craft uses the same kind of fast chargers that power electric vehicles in under an hour.

The U.S. Air Force has been testing the aircraft the last few months, for potential use in cargo and rescue missions.

Its “roadshow” crew flew in from New Hampshire to the Joint Base for the recent demonstration.

Ross Elkort is a Flight Test Engineer with Vermont-based aerospace company BETA Technologies.

He told CAI that with no engine, Alia is much quieter than your average plane.

Brian Engles

“Having the propeller behind us, which is the only thing making noise, in the cockpit it’s especially quiet. You can have this level of conversation in-flight without radios or anything and hear each other just fine,” Elkort said.

Retired Brigadier General Christopher Faux is the Executive Director of Joint Base Cape Cod.

Faux said base officials are excited about how they might use the aircraft.

“You’ve got use-cases where we need to drop off medical supplies, or we need to drop off food, or we need to bring somebody out to fix a generator so the unit can keep working, and it’s a 2 hour drive but we can get them there by aircraft in 5 minutes. There are just a lot of different uses.”

Faux said the base is also considering ways the technology could help the surrounding community,

“We’re definitely looking at ways that we can work with the public, work with the community, and say, ‘Hey, how can we as a team benefit the region with electric aviation?’”

He said the base is exploring several possibilities for the technology.

“Maybe even get to the point where we’re doing maintenance and production here, and not only does that give us a greater capability, but it also brings jobs.”

Faux said Alia’s flight from New Hampshire to Joint Base Cape Cod was about $10 in charging costs, while operating a military helicopter can costs thousands of dollars per hour.

Flight Test Engineer Elkort grew up in Massachusetts and said it was “humbling and exciting” to fly over Boston on the way to Cape Cod. He said the team has been collaborating with the U.S. Armed Forces, as well as MassDOT as they expand their charging network.

Brian Engles

Elkort said flying Alia is very similar to operating a typical aircraft.

“It flies very smoothly, it’s obviously super quiet, as I said. It has a 50-foot wingspan so it glides exceptionally well.”

He noted that the crew can take advantage of lift from the wings during flights and use less power.

Elkort was also part of the Air Force’s first-ever casualty evacuation training mission using the fully electric Alia.

He said it involved landing Alia at a small airstrip, joining up with a Black Hawk, then transporting a stretchered, 200-pound dummy into the electric aircraft, and flying it back to their base in Florida.

Brian Engles is an author, a Cape Cod local, and a producer for Morning Edition.

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