How To Convert A Motorcycle To An Electric Airplane In 501 Easy Steps


We could kid ourselves and say electric airplanes are making great strides but … they aren’t. Electric airplanes are coming for sure and are making progress, but their capabilities are still limited. In this video, KITPLANES Editor-at-Large Paul Dye explains how he used a Zero motorcycle powertrain to power a Xenos kitbuilt motorglider. The process is actually not as complicated as it might sound, but in this interview, he explains what was involved. And interestingly, the electric power system is a good fit for a motorglider.


  1. A really good summary of the current state of electric aviation. Paul Dye does a really good job of describing the issues of modifying existing systems to an airplane, and also emphasizes the fact that most manufacturers really don’t want to get involved in the aviation industry. He is realistic about the limitations of battery powered aircraft, but also adventurous enough to turn it into a learning experience. That is what experimental aviation is all about.

    • “That is what experimental aviation is all about.” John Mc. Bingo! Have you guys asked yourself what EAA has become? “EXPERIMENTAL” Aviation Association. All I see today is marketing, marketing, marketing and everything non experimental way off the chart. You count on your fingers guys like this working on projects from scratch and building their own experimental…
      Thanks Paul for bringing this project up and sharing with us. This is the true spirit of experimental aviation. Love the “this is not a quick bait title” LOL. Nice to see knowledge being shared with no charge : ) Thanks!

  2. Fascinating closeup article. I didn’t realize that electric motorcycles were perhaps a closer starting point for electric GA technologies than electric cars, with their much larger batteries. One question, though. Electric cars get good extension of their highway mileage from regenerative braking, so their highway range is much greater than their city driving range. Does something like that work out with a glider, which might recharge all the way back down, but suffer in the pattern?

    • You are incorrect about regen braking on the hiway. As an owner of a Bolt, i can attest that, unlike a hybrid, hiway range with an EV can be MUCH LESS than city range. Aerodynamic drag makes a HUGE difference. It takes energy at 40kw rate to ascend a nearby, steady grade at 60mph, cruise active. Descending same hill, same speed, I get 5-7 kw regen rate. Drove up another hill, 30mph max, then back down with regen the only braking used (didnt touch the brakes) and had almost identical range when I got back to the bottom.

  3. In 1909 Louis Bleriot crossed the English Channel, a distance of 22 SM. Just 18 years later Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic Ocean non-stop, a distance of 3,600 SM. Both flights established the State of the Art at the time they were flown. At this point in time, electric aviation is at the “Bleriot stage”. It is difficult to conceive that there will be a change in battery energy density that will move us to the “Lindbergh stage”. If it does occur, it is likely that the technology will have nothing in common with current battery technology.

    • Two comments.
      1. Surely you’re being a little unkind? Just on the range numbers electric aircraft are 10x ahead of Bleriot while remaining 10x behind Lindberg.
      2. Apparently that density change has already occurred. Several mobs have recently demonstrated over 500WH/kg in batteries with recharging and crash performance suitable for realistic use. Leaving aside the breathless, “this changes everything” reports, a lot of capital is being thrown at RnD for the on-demand-type short hop devices. Some appear to have a use case with current tech, others seem to be confident better tech will be ready when they are.

  4. Wonder why folks don’t design in a swing battery capability. With a modified lift platform you could drop depleted battery out and raise a freshly charged swing battery in. Flight schools could have a battery charge rack for multiple swing batteries. Just say’n

  5. The Zero is such a poor excuse for a motorcycle its guts are better used for a self launching glider.

    It will still never do what a proper gas powered motorglider can do. That is long cross country operations with amazing efficiency.

  6. With the noise, it depends on the degree of silencing on petrol engines.
    Usually Rotax motors have better silencers than the big bore, low revving others, which often have the aero equivalent of straight pipes, at least near me… So the sound is of propeller thrum, then when the aircraft passes a roar from the motor, or a hum from a Rotax.
    There are a few European ultralight prop makers with various “silent props”. Most efficient seem to be three blades, shorter ones (tips not so close to being supersonic) where there is not too much of a weight penalty.
    And as the special forces helicopters the airforce have developed, you can fiddle with even a large helicopter rotor to make it much, much quieter, but no money in doing that commercially, until the laws change.
    Noisiest of all are the turbo prop trainers from the airforce, where the props are set for max climb, all the time, and make so much noise you hardly hear the motor at all.

  7. Interesting and tantalizing though not practical conversion experimentation. I remain a disbeliever in eAviation at this time; nothing new here. With the exception of a few very specialized uses, all this shows ME is that it isn’t anywhere near practical as many have opined ad nauseum. The 100 pound gorilla in the equation remains battery energy density along with the attendant and numerous logistical impediments along with a few ‘unknowns’ that maybe haven’t YET reared their ugly presence. Unless and until battery/electric propulsion is someplace close to the performance numbers of gas powered airplanes — and cost, too — CPB (cheap pilot bastards) ain’t gonna go for it. I’ll give Mr Dye an ‘A+’ for effort and that’s about it. I’d love for someone to try to cobble together an eHybrid aeroplane … maybe that’s where the breakthrough might come from?

  8. I think the breakthrough would be laws and technology allowing minimally restricted adaptation of car and motorcycle engines for aviation use.

  9. CATL just announced that their newest battery has almost double the energy density of the best current batteries; the new battery is described as the breakthrough threshold for electric aircraft batteries.
    That CATL battery would almost double the endurance of this Xenos; charges faster as well.
    Pipistrel has a certified electric Trainer, and makes a powerpack that would be a perfect match for this Xenos.
    Battery technology is evolving very quickly; solid state batteries with more energy density, and even faster charging are getting closer every day.

    • Like a lot of electric announcements here, there’s a fair amount of hype in CATL press release. It’s still a long way from the lab to the factory.

  10. Motor gliders are a logical place for this development work , particularly high performance motor gliders with L/D ks over 40:1. Battery energy density is still the most limiting factor, but not to the extent that it is for GA aircraft. this is due to the practicality of quick-swappable battery packs for this class of aircraft. There are already a few commercially available birds in this category built around swappable packs that are right on the edge of practicality. These aircraft tend to operate in and out of the same gliderport, so having one unit on the charger and the other in the air can work well. Larger swappable power packs could make sense in conventional training aircraft in some situations as well, but the bigger the bird, the greater the difficulty of pulling off this approach.

  11. I read in another article that the electric varieties were dramatically more expensive and I did not think any cost savings would ever be realized, especially as the engine is not used the majority of time in operation. I regarded this as a fail for the electric drivetrain.

  12. The old economic rule of thumb surely applies here: even if the correct factors are being given the correct weightings, the change will take longer to arrive than predicted but then unfold more quickly than imagined.

    Over-excitement notwithstanding, overall there is simply too much money being thrown at the problem for the nay-sayers to be correct. A series of technical issues are being solved and a cascade of successes will probably create a second, larger rush of interest. Amidst the genuine excitement I predict some hilarious valuations of IPOs and some spectacular failures that will make Icon look small.