Electricity in the air

Dan Johnson, president of the Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association, is an expert on Light Sport Aircraft.

On the national scene, electric automobiles are generating lots of media attention, while the government has been subsidizing and using persuasion and incentives to whip up more interest and development activity for electric-powered vehicles. So, should it be any wonder that aviation has joined the party with electric-powered aircraft?

Such a national push — plus $1.65 million — will surely generate new enthusiasm. Wait a minute! Was that a million six hundred fifty thousand dollars? That’s a lot of dough, a sum organizers say is the “largest-ever prize for civil aviation.”

Yes, not only is a move afoot to experiment with various airplanes and electric motor propulsion, but NASA is working with the CAFE Foundation to conduct the Green Flight Challenge with its tempting purse. The result has been a rush of development at smaller companies nimble enough to get a competitive product ready for competition. In March, CAFE announced 13 entries. (Regretfully, one team, Yuneec and its novel four-seat, tandem-electric motor entry crashed recently, taking the life of test pilot Martin Wezel.)

Aircraft competing for the prize must fly 200 miles in less than two hours using the energy equivalent of less than one gallon of gasoline per occupant. Because of the rules, some entries are four-seat aircraft; one is a six seater. “Team aircraft include those propelled by gasoline, bio-diesel, hydrogen, and electricity,” reported CAFE.

The Green Flight Challenge will occur July 11-17, just before this summer’s AirVenture Oshkosh. Teams come from around the U.S. Several entries are from companies that made their start in light aircraft manufacturing, which makes sense. Light aircraft take less power, which means less battery weight. Heavy batteries and airplanes aren’t particularly compatible and, therefore, the first aircraft to fly successfully are the lightest airframes.

Read more about light electric aircraft on ByDanJohnson.com. Find more info on the Green Flight Challenge at CAFEFoundation.org.


  1. Kent Misegades says

    Electric planes? Might be practical for gliders and ULs, but let’s not allow the hype to overtake us, and can we pleeeeeease stop using the “G” word! Let’s face it, batteries will be required, and how are these charged? It would be more appropriate to call these “coal-powered” or “nuclear-powered” airplanes. As an aerospace engineer, I am concerned that the rush by groups to compete in the various electric propulsion prizes is forcing designers to cut corners on aircraft structure, since weight is the biggest enemy of electric powered airplanes. I must wonder if this was the cause of the Yuneec crash, which took the life of my friend Martin Wezel recently? Also, what happens to a battery full of combustible, highly-toxic materials when it catches fire in flight, or splits open on a hard landing? If we’re really interested in advancing the efficiency of aircraft, it seems that we’ll get far more bang for the buck by adopting the latest FADEC and fuel injection technology from gasoline engines. We can also tap into the huge production volume for these engines from the auto industry, and we need only burn relatively cheap autogas, too.

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