Tuesday, October 8, 2013
I Fly The Body Electric
Our exclusive flight of the new, in-production electric eSpyder
Camera in hand at AirVenture 2009, I remember breathlessly hot-footing along behind Peghiny, camera in hand one breezy Oshkosh afternoon as he pushed his modified electric FlightStar out onto the ultralight-area grass.
He strapped in, called "Clear!" and "fired up" the engine. The only visceral clues that anything was happening were the faint whine from the brushless motor and a spinning prop.
Peghiny throttled up, accelerated across the grass with nary more than a whisper from the thin composite prop, lifted into the golden afternoon and floated into electric aviation history. I fired off several photos, wishing with all my heart that he and I could change places!
It was both exhilarating and eerie to watch the eSpyder pass overhead at 300 feet, under power, yet not hear any noise at all. We can imagine spectators who saw Whitehead, the Wrights, Glen Curtiss, Santos-Dumont, Bleriot, et al, from 1901 to 1914, feeling similar awe at their first view of an aeroplane.
I felt in my bones that this was the dawn of a new era, and true enough. My timing was just a bit off...four years off as it turned out.
Lesson: You can push technology hard, but you can't shortcut the learning curve.
Battery and electric motor development, personal tragedy and design setbacks at Yuneec, and the need for a deeper maturing of energy storage physics, motor design and electronic speed controller refinement proved to be the R&D sinkhole of electric aircraft production during those last four years.
Recently, anxious for encouraging news, I asked Peghiny what the heck was happening with Yuneec's electric R&D.
"They won't produce it," he answered cryptically, "until everything's the way they want it. They want to get it absolutely right."
My flight in the AirVenture skies assures me they've gotten it right.
Here's what's missing with the eSpyder:
1. Loud and obnoxious two-stroke engine noise
2. A vibrating airframe
3. Smelly exhaust
4. Oil mixing and refueling chores
5. Regular engine maintenance
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