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    « KLN 94 Gotcha Flying RNAV GPS Y and Z Instrument Approaches | Main | Pilot Training Reform Symposium - What Would You Change? »

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    JetAviator7

    Max:

    I used to think the idea of an electric aircraft was crazy, but no doubt the technology is getting better day by day and perhaps therein lies a solution.

    One thing is for sure - we need to get more people interested in flying airplanes. It seems the romance has gone, and with it the hordes of folks wanting to learn to fly.

    Where is Bill Piper when we need him?

    John

    Erik Lindbergh

    Great article Max, XPRIZE has been looking at some of these issues for a while, but passed on an Electric Aircraft Prize because, for a multitude of reasons the incentive type prize was not the best model for this particular endeavor at this time. For this reason we (LEAP) set up a recognition prize www.lindberghprize.org to help accelerate the development of the electric aircraft industry. Along with the LEAP education program and the filming of a documentary TV series on "The Birth of the Electric Aircraft Industry" we are tackling this issue from a "prize philanthropy" and education angle. LEAP booth and Student team at GreenSpace at Sun n Fun. come by and lets talk! Erik

    Joseph Wang

    Max,

    Kudos for addressing a major issue affecting a huge portion of the GA pilot (and future/potential pilot) population... the cost of flying.

    I believe the solution for lowering costs of single-engine/electric LSA aircraft is to combine "open source" designs and competitions with modular component design and manufacture. Organizations such as the EAA and Mr. Lindbergh's LEAP could fund and/or host annual design competitions involving engineering schools, private industry, and collaborative teams of individuals (who could even be from different states or countries) that would submit designs for modularized, electric LSA aircraft. All design submissions, specifically those from 1st/2nd/3rd place teams, would become open source material that could be used, modified, improved, tested, manufactured, and flown by anyone in the world.

    Designs should, to the maximum extent possible, consist of separate but integrated modules including the cabin (with avionics panel submodule), wing, landing gear, electric motor, energy storage units (batteries or fuel cells), and tail empennage. As an example, an electric LSA resembling the Seeker (seekeraircraft.com) could be designed with modules for the cabin, fixed landing gear, tail empennage, external quick-change conformal battery packs, etc., attached to a main structural spine. Modular, open source designs would enable suppliers to manufacture only those sections/modules matching their firm's expertise, and foster the existence of multiple suppliers for each module (per the design specs). Because of the open source design, other companies could integrate the modules into complete aircraft ready for sale (after first validating the compliance of modules to design specs and ASTM standards, and performing flight testing).

    While the competitions should be open to all comers, I especially believe entries and design teams should be solicited from (and promoted at) aerospace engineering programs across the United States. This would encourage engineering students (with guidance from professors) to pool their efforts and talents into an exciting annual competition (held at EAA AirVenture?) that would benefit the public, while also helping students apply their theoretical knowledge to the real-world challenge of designing a modular, reliable, safe, easy-to-manufacture, and attractive personal aircraft. Engineering programs might even offer credit to participants as part of a class project, senior design practicum, etc. Thus, an open source design competition for an electric LSA could lead not only to better and more affordable GA aircraft, but to better and more experienced aerospace engineers for the future.

    Regards,
    Joseph Wang

    Ben

    Max, great article. Personally, I'd prefer to see a race for all out performance first, rather than trying to work within the current regs or trying to copy existing designs. For instance, there are some interesting differences that could arise with an electric plane, such as the potential for increased torque with an electric motor. It could stimulate new propeller designs for starters. (New tail designs possibly following from a new propeller, then there are the different structural issues which invoke new materials...) Even e-jet engines could be an option.

    Range notwithstanding, I wonder if an "X-prize" for a high-performance (e.g. aerobatic or pylon racing) e-plane might not produce more radical results? Cloning the familiar seems to be what most e-planes are trying to do (e.g. the Yuneec from China). But experience in car racing suggests that much innovation stems from the edgy stuff, which then flows back to us in the everyday marketplace. (EADS's e-CriCri twin might be considered a first step in this direction.) And having a high-performance goal might be better for publicity in the non-flying world, too.

    Going for high performance now would also buy some time while the engineers and scientists figure out how to achieve good e-storage without a lot of mass. When all's said and done it's a battery/fuel cell issue that's limiting us today. If we had ten times the power stored in a device a tenth of the weight we'd all be flying e-planes already!

    What I'd like to see is some radical new designs in batteries/cells, engines/props and aircraft designs, with few limits, and suggest performance goals to attain. Then I think it would be quite possible for the clever people at Cessna and elsewhere to devise variants of their familiar designs with e-motors in the front end (if that's where they happen to end up!).

    Cheers!

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