Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Light-Sport Chronicles: Profiles In Vision, Randall Fishman

This “garage” builder of electric aircraft wants to quietly change the world

ELECTRIC INNOVATIONS: Randall Fishman's cutting-edge, pioneering designs include the Electra Flyer, the ElectraFlyer C and the ElectraFlyer X.
In 2007, a man no one in aviation had ever heard of walked onto the field at Oshkosh, strapped himself into a motorized hang-glider trike and took off. No big deal, right? Trikes have been around for decades."

Ah, but a trike powered solely by electricity, that flew a 200-pound pilot for more than 1½ hours? That was completely new. So when Randall Fishman, a retired jewelry maker with a keen mind and a tinkerer's passion, flew on silent wings, we knew the future had arrived.

That seminal event quietly retold a story as old as time: One person with true vision can shift the world. It also won him EAA's coveted 2007 Grand Champion Ultralight and a Special Award for Innovation. The very next year, he rocked the burgeoning world of electric flight again with the ElectraFlyer C, a modified Moni kit motorglider. With 1½ hour's endurance, it could partially recharge batteries in gliding flight through the spinning prop, cruised at 70 mph, and had a top level speed of more than 90 mph!

That accomplishment earned Fishman the Stan Dzik Memorial Award for innovation and the Dr. August Raspet Memorial Award for "outstanding contribution to the advancement of light aircraft design." That year, he got a visit from a previous winner: the Great One himself, Burt Rutan, who congratulated him. Rutan had also won the Dzik award previously. Birds of a feather and all that.

In 2009, a cash grant from the Lindbergh Foundation helped fund ongoing work. Randall Fishman flew hang gliders from the early '70s. Then came ultralights. "I really liked ultralights," says Fishman. "I really didn't like all the noise and vibration. We accepted it then, although an hour flight left your whole body buzzing."

He's one of those smart guys who knows how to invite the right people into his projects. After the exciting debut of the Trike, it was time for something more ambitious. "Joe Bennis, a natural pilot who'd been my glider instructor at the Wurtsboro, N.J., airport, was very helpful," explains Fishman. "I told him about the C model. He said, 'I'm on board,' let me use his hangar, and became the test pilot for all the test flying. Joe was a big, big help. I don't think I could have done it without him."


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