At NASA challenge, a 2-hour flight for $7 in electricity

For the first time in aviation history, full-scale electric-powered aircraft have performed in competition, taking the top two spots in the CAFE Green Flight Challenge, organized in part by NASA.

The competition, created to spur development of more fuel-efficient aircraft and kick-start an electric plane industry, required aircraft to fly 200 miles in less than two hours while using less than 1 gallon of fuel per occupant or the equivalent in electric power, NASA said.

The Pipistrel-USA.com team, based at Penn State University, took the first prize of $1.35 million — the largest prize ever awarded in aviation, NASA says. Team eGenius of Ramona, Calif., took the second prize of $120,000. Both were electric-powered and both achieved twice the required fuel efficiency, using the electric equivalent of just over a half-gallon of fuel per passenger, NASA said.

"Two years ago, the thought of flying 200 miles at 100 mph in an electric aircraft was pure science fiction," said Jack Langelaan, a Penn State aeronautics professor and Pipistrel team leader. "Now, we are all looking forward to the future of electric aviation."

Considering the 8 cents per kilowatt-hour charged in central Pennsylvania, Langelaan said it would cost $7 to charge his Pipistrel G-4 for a two-hour flight, according to a CAFE Foundation blog entry.

The Pipistrel team achieved the equivalent of 403.5 passenger miles per gallon at an average speed of 107 mph. Team eGenius reached 375 passenger miles per gallon.

General aviation aircraft flay at about 60 passenger miles per gallon, George Lesieutre, Penn State’s head of aerospace engineering, told Penn State Live.

The teams spent two years on design, development and testing of their aircraft, NASA said. Fourteen teams registered, and three met all requirements to fly in the competition.

The Green Flight Challenge was held at the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa, Calif. It was managed by the CAFE Foundation under an agreement with NASA and sponsored by Google.

It’s a long way from small, light aircraft to passenger jetliners, but the technology developed for electric and fuel-efficient flight could eventually find its way into general use, which is part of the idea behind the challenge.

Airlines estimate that fuel makes up about 35 percent of their operating costs, which of course is reflected in the price of a ticket. So more efficient flight likely would make passengers happy, too.

 

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is editor of Defense Systems. Follow him on Twitter: @KevinMcCaney.

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