Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Field Of Electric Dreams


If you fund it, they will come—and change the world


He expects improvements in battery energy density of 11% per year. "In about five years, we will have very, very good batteries. We will apply solar cells to the wings to bring 15% charging capacity to the airplane. Next year, we hope to extend our range to 600 miles on a single charge."

PC Aero's solar panel-bedecked trailer completely charges the airplane in a few hours. "We only need 200 square feet of panels to supply 300 hours of flying per year. That's a normal flying club's yearly amount. Electric flight can be successful only if we fight for low weight, good aerodynamics, and find the best compromise. This is the secret. Electra One was designed as a cruiser, but came out with a glide ratio of 34:1 and is very sensitive in thermals. The battery life is about 1,000 cycles."

And The Winner Is

On the final day of the Green Flight Challenge, the tightly guarded tabulations of all the flight data were released and the winners announced.

The largest aviation prize ever given, $1.35 million, went to Pipistrel's Taurus G4, with the second place award of $120,000 going to eGenius. Surprising numbers confirmed both the aircraft achieved almost twice the fuel efficiency required for the competition! That means each flew the 200 mile-course using just over a half gallon of fuel equivalent per passenger.

"Ultraefficient aviation is within our grasp," said Joe Parrish, NASA's acting chief technologist. "Today, we've shown that electric aircraft have moved beyond science fiction."

Running With The Vision

Erik Lindbergh made a prediction: "The first company to produce a certified two-seat electric aircraft with a 1.5-hour range will dominate the aviation training market." It now appears several such aircraft could be available within two or three years.

This year's electrifying events have another winner: everyone who has dreamed of practical electric flight. Only a year ago, electro-pundits online bemoaned their certainty that a two-hour, 100 mph electric flight was still years away.

Berblinger and the GFC alone demonstrated the movement is accelerating. Yes, only 10 electric aircraft finished in two major contests, but 49 entered! Forty-nine separate groups put in the time, energy, work and brain power to field a flying electric aircraft. It speaks volumes about the enthusiasm and commitment out there.

It's a thrilling time to be watching the skies, and watch we should: We won't be hearing these e-birds coming!



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