Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Light-Sport Chronicles: The Lindbergh Way

More insights into aviation’s electrifying future from Erik Lindbergh

He admits to some frustration at the intervening years since Yuneec and others rolled out electric prototypes to now, finally, having a viable electric aircraft that the average pilot can own and fly. "I didn't think it would take this long," he said. "With the Lindbergh Prizes, we wanted to bring public recognition to breakthroughs in the field."

The LEAP program "stood down" for a year to give new players, as he calls them, time to further develop their projects. "Many are doing it fairly quietly, so we're holding off for a while. That's the beauty of recognition prizes: We can be very flexible." Lindbergh explains.

He dreams about an incentive like the Orteig Prize his grandfather won in the original Spirit—perhaps a joint effort with the XPRIZE Foundation.

"It would be great to find someone to put up $10 million to be awarded to the first practical aircraft, say a four-seater, to fly nonstop between New York and Paris," Lindbergh says. "That would really shift the world's perspective about (what) electric aviation can do. It would also spur the competition and bring a lot of attention to the industry, which it needs," he said.

He sagely noted that before grandpa Lindbergh hopped the pond, people who flew airplanes were called "barnstormers, daredevils and flying fools." After that civilization-altering flight, they became known as "pilots and passengers."

"So yes, I see the need for a change in perspective, and a big prize is one way to bring it about," Lindbergh said. "But the electric industry is coming, make no mistake," he said.

He glances across the hangar at the eSpyder. "The biggies like Sikorsky and GE and Airbus and Boeing are all noodling around with it," Lindergh pointed out. "They see it coming. They are gradually electrifying more and more systems. The Dreamliner's battery fire problems notwithstanding—there are going to be hiccups along the way—I think electric flight will be very safe," he said.

Lindbergh brings up the imminent benefit for the flight training market promised by Yuneec's original bombshell debut: the e430, two-seat S-LSA that GreenWing hopes to have certified by next summer. "Once we get a two-seater with close to two-hour endurance, it will dramatically shift the training market, at least in the U.S.; we have the biggest training market in the world here," he said.


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