One of my favorite websites is Gizmag, a kind of Dyson vacuum for all the latest tech/science/gadget newsbits that come at us every day.
Innovation in aviation continually accelerates and frequently astounds. To start the new year off right, I thought I'd range afield a bit from solely LSA topics to graze, Gizmag-style, on some cool stories I've been gathering in my goodie file.
First up, that wild west world of aircraft innovation: electric propulsion. Beyond the GreenWing/Yuneec eSpyder electric LSA I flew and wrote up recently, let's consider two high-profile stories— Solar Impulse and a speed-crazed daredevil named Chip Yates.
Solar Impulse flew across America last summer on the sun's radiation alone. The two-month low-speed sun chase served as overture for the project's stated goal: a nonstop global circumnavigation to raise consciousness of alternative power's potential—and importance—to all our energy futures.
Meanwhile, electric motorcycle record setter/innovator Chip Yates continued to carve out his own e-niche by setting five electric-flight world records in a highly modified Long-ESA canard plane:
• 1-kilometer (0.62 miles) closed- course speed record: 216.9 mph
• 500-meter (1,640 feet) time to climb from standing stop: 62.58 seconds
• 3,000-meter (9,843 feet) time-to-climb in 6 min. 29 sec.
• Highest altitude (14,700 feet)
• Highest sustained altitude (14,700 feet for 90 seconds)
His goal: to show electric aircraft don't have to be slow and "boring."
Meanwhile, my guest here last month, Erik Lindbergh, envisions a $10 million XPRIZE for the first four-place all-electric aircraft to fly across the Atlantic.
E-Genius, the German electric that took second to Pipistrel's Taurus G4 in 2011's NASA/CAFE $1.65 million Green Flight Challenge, continues to push the envelope. Recent flights include 244 miles on a single charge and a two-hour-40-minute triangle course run of 252.5 miles, with one charge en route, that ended with 30 minutes reserve.
Bringing all this burgeoning e-technology home will be GreenWing's Yuneec E430 two-seat S-LSA. Now in flight test, look to Oshkosh for the debut of the production model.
Other e-birds of note:
• Sunseeker Duo, Eric Raymond's side-by-side two-seat e-sailplane, should make news this year with long flights—using only solar power!
• Switzerland's super-light carbon- fiber Archaeopteryx foot-launch, 18-mph-stall, 28-1 glide ratio sailplane now has electric propulsion.
• The EADS/Airbus E-Fan should fly this year, sporting two ducted fan 30 kW motors and 250-volt powerpacks. It's aimed at the flight-training market, but EADS (European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company, which includes Airbus and Eurocopter) has a bigger dream: e-airliners.
• Several electric-powered sailplanes are in production. Pipistrel's Taurus Electro G2, the Antares 20E, Randall Fishman's ultralight ElectraFlyer ULS and PC-Aero's Elektra One are flying. Two- and six-seat Elektra models are in the works.
• Many companies are developing electric aircraft in full view—or quietly in the shadows. Expect exciting introductions this year.
Futures Near And Far
Elon Musk, the big thinker of boundless imagination, sees a supersonic vertical- takeoff/landing electric-powered jet airliner in the medium future. He calls it the "ultimate form of transport" and says he'd develop it himself—if he wasn't already busy running electric car company Tesla Motors and SpaceX, and planning a private mission to Mars.
On the near horizon, the LSA phenomenon continues apace with these developments, products and events:
• Recent battery research has advanced the energy storage of current top-performing lithium batteries by five times! Not in production yet, but do the math: If we can fly two people now for even an hour, a 5X battery pack will make electric flight feasible and common.
• After its 25th Anniversary Jubilee Edition CTLS sold out, Flight Design doubles down on the success with the Americas Edition CTLSi. The "i" model comes with the Rotax 912iS fuel-injected engine, dual Dynon 10-inch SkyView EFIS displays, Garmin 796 touchscreen MFD (multi-function display), Dynon autopilot, Twin Bose A-20 AN headsets, BRS 1350 high-speed airframe parachute system and optional ADS-B free weather and traffic. Talk about being "fully loaded."
Here's a shout-out to Pilot Workshops, which posts really helpful "Pilot's Tip of the Week" audio programs online—and they're free. Past tips include wake turbulence and rudder Skills. The company markets audio and video pilot proficiency programs. www.pilotworkshop.com.
• Quicksilver Aeronautics is working with IDENT to rig its GT500 S-LSA as a low-cost border patrol. Called Mosquito, a fleet of the lightweight, electronics-laden craft would patrol under the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security's control.
• The Bamboo Curtain opens wider as Alibaba, China's largest e-commerce group, is selling LSA and GA aircraft online in its eBay-style auction site, Taobao. Last fall, a Jabiru J160C sold for $170,000. www.taobao.com.
• Old pal Randy Schlitter of Rans Design is finishing up flight testing on his new S-20 Raven taildragger/tricycle gear "convertible" (that takes a few hours). The two-seat kit LSA is a bit of a hybrid of the S-7S Courier and Coyote S-6S, and brings side-by-side seating to the Cub-like format.
• 3-D print your own airplane! A group of pilots and design engineers are working an open source (and crowdfunded) light-aircraft kit that will utilize available components, composite construction, CNC mills and 3-D printers. Projected cost: $15,000! www.makerplane.org.
• Skycraft's new SD-1 Minisport, near ASTM certification as I write, offers something completely different: a single-seat LSA that burns just 1.8 gph, can take ethanol-laced mogas and is insurable, says the company, for less than $20/month. www.skycraftairplanes.com.
• Another kit LSA about to debut as an S-LSA, the SAM LS claims to be spin- proof, using normal control inputs. The greenhouse cockpit-style low-winger is a throwback to classic military trainer designs. www.sam-aircraft.com.
Looking at avionics, dynamo innovator Dynon has a new Pocket Panel addition: the D2 attitude indicator, with Wi-Fi connectivity for viewing GPS flight data on iPad, smartphone and tablet apps.
IFly GPS by Adventure Pilot continues to serve up sophisticated, super low-cost devices, such as its new ADS-B dual-band transceiver, dubbed SkyGuardTWX Vision-Pro. The small unit couples to the iFly 720 display to offer both ADS-B IN and OUT weather and traffic data—at $1,399. www.iflygps.com.
And now one from the heart: The inspiring Able Flight organization continues its good work awarding scholarships to help disabled people achieve their dreams of flight. Headed up by Charles Stites, it recently received a grant from the Wounded Warrior Project to train injured U.S. service members returning from combat as pilots and for other aviation careers. Please consider them for your charitable donations.
This little column is just the tip of the iceberg of what's going on out there in electric and flight innovation. Quoting from Solar Impulse's website: "The ultimate goal...is to express a humanistic vision which devotes a major place to the pioneering spirit, to the questing mind and to innovation in our everyday lives."
Let's raise our glasses to the power of dreams, big and small, wherever you may find them.