Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Light-Sport Chronicles: Back To The Future

Not all pioneers go gently unto that good night

Randall Fishman's new all-electric, all-composite ElectraFlyer ULS is priced at $59,000.
But where were all those electric airplanes under $150,000 that we had thought were about to fill the skies like lightning bolts in a thunderstorm?

Back to center stage came Randall Fishman. At Sebring 2012, he introduced his updated, folding version of the the ElectraFlyer Trike, and a totally new aircraft, the ElectraFlyer ULS, an all-electric, all-composite ultralight (FAA Part 103-legal) priced at $59,000.

I think of Randall as a diehard throwback to the days when one person could make a difference. I don't mean exactly like Thomas Edison or Wernher von Braun. He's more of a hunter-gatherer of electric flight technology. Randall studies and learns what's out there, what's practical right now; then he gathers airframe and electronics builders, designers and engineers to supply him with the components he needs to build electric airplanes.

"I'm a hang-glider guy. I love soaring machines," he reminded me, as we sat next to his prototype ULS, a lovely, carbon-fiber, twin-boomed, 20 hp electric outrunner-powered, single-seat ultralight motorglider.

That's a lot of adjectives to cram into one sentence, but then Randall is a lot of personalities stuffed into one persona: dreamer, researcher, capital investor, businessman, technology innovator and doubtless other categories I've overlooked.

Meanwhile, the ULS is, in fact, a rather slick piece of work. Short tell: He enlisted a Slovakian designer to craft a carbon-fiber-composite airframe with some gratifying specs, and it should be ready for production (90 days from order to delivery) by the time you read this.

The ULS sports a 24:1 glide ratio, 220 fpm sink rate and 245-pound empty weight. The 37-foot-span single-seater flies up to 63 mph—the Part 103 legal limit—takes off in 250 feet, and lands under 24 mph, thanks to flaps and speed brakes. The bird flies for either an hour or two, depending on which size LiPo (Lithium Polymer) battery pack you buy.
I think of Randall as a diehard throwback to the days when one person could make a difference. He's a hunter-gatherer of electric flight technology. He studies and learns what's out there.
The airframe was tested to Czech Republic ultralight airworthiness standards. The airframe carries a +4G/-2G utility load limit. Power comes from a 20 hp (15 kW) outrunner-style electric motor. All-up gross weight is 520 pounds for a useful load of 266 pounds. The ULS will also be marketed with gas-powered engines.

Before too long, we'll see electric aircraft that will truly blow our socks off. Perhaps Yuneec, but certainly companies like Pipistrel, Lange and PC-Aero (Elektra One) are likely candidates to produce electric aircraft at somewhat affordable prices.

Meanwhile, amid the surge of building this new and exciting industry, let's remember the Glenn Curtiss of electric flight: Randall Fishman. His ElectraFlyer designs may never be sold in significant numbers. But he's one guy who's making things happen right now. I imagine him out there in his workshop, soldering together battery packs and assembling components, working out the kinks along the way, and patiently proving to the world that two-hour electric flight is already here, and it costs half what a typical LSA costs.

Hats off to you, Randall Fishman. Keep dreaming. Keep tinkering. Keep reminding us that one person can open the door to the quietly humming flight at a time.


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