Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Field Of Electric Dreams
If you fund it, they will come—and change the world
All photos this article courtesy NASA
In time, we may well look back on the event as a Wright/Lindberghian moment: as the first time aircraft conclusively demonstrated electric flight has moved beyond prototype demonstrations of future technology. The event is the Green Flight Challenge (GFC), conceived and hosted by the bright folks of the CAFE Foundation and cosponsored by NASA, and no less an icon of global change than Google.
Electric Bridges Too Far?
In the past, the GFC had tasked itself with stimulating, quantifying and qualifying ever-increasing flight efficiency. This year, its intent was to raise the bar for electric flight—as in asking a high jumper to pull off a 20 footer!
The GFC threw down a prodigious gauntlet: Each aircraft had to fly 200 miles, at an average speed no less than 100 mph, while burning the fuel equivalent of—get this—no more than one gallon of fuel per passenger!
To add stick-and-carrot incentive, NASA and Google tossed in a mighty big carrot indeed: $1.65 million in total prize money. As the Orteig Prize for flight across the Atlantic demonstrated in 1927, if you wave the greenbacks, they will come.
But perhaps evocative of the growing pains of all new movements, after a promising response of 13 original entrants, only five aircraft teams felt equal enough to the task to even show up. One disappointment was the absence of the radical double-box-tail Synergy, a truly futuristic-looking concept electric.
Team members of the e-Genius aircraft prepare their plane prior to the Green Flight Challenge at the Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa, Calif., on Monday, Sept. 26.
And then there were three: Eco Eagle was disqualified on technicalities, leaving just three aircraft to compete for prize money.
Competition tasks included takeoff noise qualifications (clear 50-foot obstacle in 2,000 feet, sound level no higher than 78 dB), efficiency flight to measure pMPG (passenger miles per gallon) and the "main event": fastest speed through the course while maintaining a 200 pMPG efficiency ceiling.
Energy consumption (1 pMPG = 33.69 kWh of energy) couldn't exceed one gallon per passenger for the 200 miles, and oh yes: a 30-minute "fuel" reserve also was required.
In a strategic move designed to increase its chances of winning, Pipistrel conjoined two of its Taurus G2 production motorgliders with one large wing, added a central power pod for the single electric motor and batteries, and thus gained the benefit of the electrical equivalent of four gallons of gas, because the G4— weighing 3,300 pounds at gross, one-third of which is batteries!—carries four people.
Page 1 of 4
Labels: Avionics, Buyer's Guide, Cockpit Gadgets, Headsets, Pilot Supplies, Pilot Gear, Gear, Gadgets