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Green Flight Challenge

And the award goes to… Pipistrel-USA.com!

On Monday, October 3, at Moffett Field in Mountain View, California, NASA awarded the first prize of $1.35 million in the NASA/CAFE Foundation Green Flight Challenge.

The Challenge, established by the CAFE Foundation and sponsored by Google, stipulated that an aircraft seating at least two people, with at least two side-by-side, must fly a 200-mile course non-stop while averaging at least 100 mph and using the energy equivalent of less than 1 gallon of gasoline per occupant.

Pipistrel's Taurus G4 achieved this feat with an average speed of 107 mph over the course using the equivalent in electric power of just over half a gallon of gasoline per occupant. As Pipistrel team leader Jack Langelaan pointed out, this is over twice the efficiency of a fully loaded Toyota Prius at over twice the speed.

In short, Pipistrel hit it out of the park.

The second-place entry, the eGenius concept, designed and built by the University of Stuttgart's Institute of Aircraft Design, also handily achieved the goal, achieving almost twice the required fuel efficiency.

I find the success of the Taurus G4 and the eGenius tremendously exciting. As I've discussed in an earlier post, electric aircraft have the potential to be superior to those powered by internal combustion engines in just about every respect: simple operation, lower cost, improved reliability, minimal maintenance, better performance at altitude, greatly reduced noise, zero emissions, and a tiny carbon footprint. The one area where they fall far short is range, because of the low energy density of current electricity storage systems. And admittedly, with a wingspan of over 75 feet, the Taurus G4 is unlikely to be coming to a taxiway near you anytime soon, but electricity storage technology is progressing very rapidly. Combined with the inherent efficiencies of electric motors and aerodynamic improvements, a practical electric airplane, suitable for real cross-country flight carrying at least two passengers and light baggage, is probably less than ten years away.

Even before then, electrics will be practical for flight training. When you're mostly flying less than an hour within 25 miles of your home airport, you don't need much range. And I think electrics will make excellent trainers. Their simplicity will allow students to focus more on mastering their stick-and-rudder skills—in my opinion, the most important aspect of primary flight training. What's more, they'll reduce the cost of flight training significantly. Flight schools will love them because of their reliability and inexpensive maintenance.

I believe history will regard The Green Flight Challenge as one of the key moments in aerospace innovation, right up there with the Orteig Prize and the Ansari X Prize. I want to congratulate the Taurus G4 and eGenius teams for their achievement and thank the CAFE Foundation, NASA, and Google, for providing the impetus for this innovation.

And I can't wait to fly my first electric airplane!

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