What happens when you’re a guy with lifelong aerospace experience that ranges from Cubs (the small airplane, not the Chicago baseball team) up to retiring from a position as a Lead Flight Director for NASA’s Human Space Flight program? In this case, it means that your name is Paul Dye, and that you’re an editor at the independent homebuilt aircraft magazine Kitplanes.
With those kinds of experiences under your belt, it’s probably no surprise that Dye seems to be a constantly curious individual. (To do the things he’s done, you kind of have to be, don’t you?) That’s probably why, after going to California to write about Gabriel DeVault’s Zero Motorcycle-engined motorglider build, learning about the process, and going for a flight in it, he decided to build his own. (By the way, if DeVault’s name sounds familiar, it should. He’s one of the founders of Zero Motorcycles and was its R & D head for several years.)
As Dye tells the story, he’d had a Xenos motorglider project sitting around for at least six or seven years. The original plan was for it to be powered by a tried-and-true AeroVee internal combustion engine—but after taking in DeVault’s project, Dye decided that he wanted to try something completely different. Thus, he enlisted DeVault’s mentorship, and reconfigured his languishing Xenos project into an eXenos build of his own. (Kitplanes has an entire series he wrote about the build, which we’ll link in our Sources if you want to get deep into the nuts and bolts of the project.)
How daunting a given project is depends, of course, upon how much previous experience you have with the constituent parts of putting it all together. As Dye explains, the airframe for this build didn’t change much behind the firewall, and the powertrain basically stays together.
They did end up removing the wiring loom from the donor Zero that Dye purchased for this project (after riding it for a bit, of course), and they stripped off the things they’d no longer need, like turn signals. Overall, though, taking a systematic approach ensured that it wasn’t overly complicated to complete with the team’s various skillsets.
For those concerned about any potential fire risks imposed by the 14.4-kilowatt hour lithium cobalt Zero battery, he notes that one major difference in placement of components between the Zero and ICE parts is placement of their respective ‘fuel’ sources. If he’d stuck to a combustion engine, the fuel tank ends up behind the firewall—practically in your lap. With the Zero powertrain, the battery pack ends up mounted forward of the firewall, which seems advantageous from a fire safety standpoint.
The range ends up being somewhere around 60 miles, good for about 45 minutes to an hour of flight—and to hear Dye talk about it with AVWeb’s Paul Bertorelli (also an experienced pilot), that’s really about all you’d want to do with this type of aircraft, anyway. While the available energy density developments in batteries aren’t up to longer flight distances in 2023, there’s a case to be made for an electric powertrain and battery setup like this being well suited to this kind of application.