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Colorado Company's Solar-Electric Planes Will Lower Cost Of Flight Instruction

By Howard Nathan

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4) - The price of learning how to fly may be coming down and apparently not soon enough.

The aviation industry has been dealing with a pilot shortage. Right now, the price to learn how to fly is up to $15,000. But with the development of a solar-electric plane, the projected cost is about $5,000.

SOLAR ELECTRIC PLANE Sun Flyer
The Sun Flyer (credit: CBS)

The plane is called the Sun Flyer and it could be called the Prius of the sky. Solar panels will be attached to the top of the wings, sending power to the battery stored behind the nose propeller. That will mean minimal engine noise, unlike the conventional small plane that interrupted the introduction of the Sun Flyer Wednesday morning at Centennial Airport.

SOLAR ELECTRIC PLANE 6PK4G.transfer
(credit: CBS)

"The airplane is so quiet," said George Bye, CEO of Aero Electric Aircraft Corp.

"Don't they need to see you coming like a Prius?" CBS4's Howard Nathan asked.

Bye responded with a hearty laugh and said, "Well of course that's why we have lights."

SOLAR ELECTRIC PLANE Sun Flyer
The Sun Flyer (credit: CBS)

Bye is building the solar-electric two-seater in a Centennial Airport hangar. It's designed to make learning how to fly affordable.

"This is going to make an airplane available for much, much less than it costs now," said flight instructor Robert Stedman.

SOLAR ELECTRIC PLANE 6PKG.trans7fer
CBS4's Howard Nathan interviews flight instructor Robert Stedman (credit: CBS)

Stedman says half of student pilots quit because they can't afford to pay for the fuel.

Bye, the plane's developer ,wants to eliminate the dropouts.

SOLAR ELECTRIC PLANE Sun Flyer
The Sun Flyer (credit: CBS)

"It's about $50 or so of aviation gasoline per flight hour, as compared to about $1 of electricity," Bye said.

By the end of the summer the prototype is expected to be flying above Centennial Airport, and you might even say to yourself, "Did I hear it coming?"

SOLAR ELECTRIC PLANE Sun Flyer
The Sun Flyer (credit: CBS)

Plans also call for a production line. At a minimum the company wants to begin building 60 Sun Flyers at Centennial Airport.

The flight time using the solar panels is three hours.

Howard Nathan is a veteran newsman. Decades later, he still enjoys writing a clever sentence, asking the tough question and talking to people in Colorado. Follow him on Twitter @CBS4Howard and read his bio.

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