Affinity Flying Training Services has spent around four months evaluating Pipistrel’s all-electric Velis Electro ultra-light aircraft, with multiple flights conducted as part of an ongoing Sustainable Aviation Pathfinder activity for the UK Ministry of Defence.
Announcing the development on 13 April, Elbit Systems UK/KBR joint venture Affinity said it is “supporting the UK Ministry of Defence on a series of battery-powered flights to assess environmentally friendly alternatives for future military flying”.
“Flight and safety assurances were developed during the summer of 2021,” says Elbit Systems UK. This activity was performed by Affinity in conjunction with the UK Civil Aviation Authority, which has certificated the Velis Electro.
This work was followed by a first phase of flights staged from Damyns Hall, Essex between December and January. “Phase 2 commenced in March 2022, and saw the aircraft join Affinity’s existing fleet at RAF Cranwell, where up to 20 additional pilots will fly the eco-friendly aircraft,” the company adds.
Flight tracking website Flightradar24 records two-seat aircraft G-OVLS as having conducted several flights from the Royal Air Force’s base in Lincolnshire last month. Imagery released by Affinity also shows an aircraft carrying the registration G-OEKO as having been involved in the project.
“Finally, Phase 3 of the flight trials will welcome senior government officials and observers,” Elbit Systems UK says.
“The flights aim to help the Royal Air Force assess the technology of electric aircraft, determine their potential for use in military service and realise the net-zero ambitions of the service’s Astra campaign”, Affinity says.
The company is responsible for delivering pilot instruction under the auspices of the UK Military Flying Training System (UKMFTS) programme, operating fleets of 23 Grob Aircraft G120TPs, 14 Beechcraft T-6Cs and five Embraer Phenom 100s. Since commencing service delivery in 2016, these assets have delivered a combined 38,000 flying hours of instruction, it says.
“The concept of trialling zero-emissions aircraft, and the subsequent Pathfinder, was proposed to the Ministry of Defence by Affinity,” the company notes, while pointing to its track record of delivering “innovative procurement and maintenance services”.
“The introduction of this Pathfinder demonstrates the company’s commitment to providing innovative solutions for the UK armed forces and addressing the needs of the future,” it adds.
The RAF has previously outlined an ambition to acquire an emissions-free type to deliver future elementary flying training services via an activity named Project Telum. It also last November conducted its own trail with an Ikarus C42 ultra-light using 100% synthetic aviation fuel, during a sortie flown from Cotswold airport at Kemble in Gloucestershire.
Affinity says it sourced Velis Electros via Fly About Aviation, with maintenance activities having been performed in partnership with Eastern Airways.
“Affinity and its shareholders are proud and excited to be a part of this Sustainable Aviation Pathfinder, and in doing so further support the Royal Air Force and UK MoD move closer to their net-zero targets,” says Affinity managing director Iain Chalmers. “It is our ambition to continue to promote innovation and sustainability in our work in both the military and government spheres in which we operate.”
BAE Systems last month also announced that it was acquiring a single example of the 600kg (1,320lb) Velis Electro to support flight-test activities at its Warton site in Lancashire from later this year. It also has entered into a collaboration with Pipistrel to explore future military applications for electric aircraft technologies.