Plane & Pilot
Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Light-Sport Chronicles: Three From The Heart

Of inspiring flights, parachute saves and electric flight from China

In print, I’ve pushed since 1983 for their adoption in general aviation. Laudably, aircraft by Cirrus include ballistics, but far too many established airframe makers haven’t taken one step in that direction. Why not? Is it really that much of a marketing challenge to ask pilots to weed out 40 to 50 pounds or so of baggage in exchange for enhancing the safety of all on board? We all need to take a breath and think about the human tradeoffs we sometimes make for mere performance when we assume nothing bad will ever happen to us in flight.

I can’t imagine a reasonable defense against onboard ballistics, any more than I can conscientiously argue against wearing car seat belts. But let me know how you feel about it, would you?

Watt’s Up
Everybody’s got alternative energy on the brain these days. Our sweet old earth is running out of fuel: Time for change.

LSA thinkers and doers are meeting this challenge with exciting projects like ElectraFlyer-C and Sonex projects here in the States.

Now comes word of the latest l’excitation électrique from Shanghai, China. The Yuneec E430 electric-powered two-seater is in phase two of flight-test mode as I write. (I’m guessing Yuneec is phonetic for “unique.”)

The E430, fitted with Yuneec’s own 54 hp electric motor, which weighs only 37.5 pounds, uses six LiPo (lithium polymer) batteries and is capable of 1.5 to 2 hours of flight. All that’s with a 400-pound payload. A future 10-battery configuration should bring duration to 2.5 hours. Most impressive.

The Yuneec International story (Google it, the URL’s too long!) only begins here. This super-sleek composite high-winger with a large V-tail also sports a 45-foot wingspan. Why is that important? It gives the LSA a 25:1 glide ratio, bestowing at least a potential for power-off flight. It also could make handling in strong winds a challenge, but one step at a time: First, let’s get it flying and to market, right?

With electric motors, restarts are a breeze. Because there only are two moving parts in the engine (the bearings!), just flick the go switch and the prop is spinning again.

Think about that—an engine that’s quiet and virtually vibration-free even at full power! And what about charging times of three hours and around $5 in energy costs. Wow!

Sure, it’s early yet to get too amped up about this (pardon the pun). Aircraft development is an arduous process, and we’ll see how this Chinese beauty plays out in the scheme of things. Plans are to certify it first as an experimental homebuilt, but commercial production is the goal.

Meanwhile, phase two of flight-testing produced these exciting results: flight durations of 15 minutes, a max height of 975 feet, takeoffs in 265 feet at 40 mph, a climb rate of 1,320 fpm, a cruise speed of 55 mph, a top-speed level flight of 93 mph. Are we dreaming electric yet, chilluns?


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