Friday, May 20, 2011

Electric Prototype and Pilot Lost

Martin Wezel, left and Tian Yu.  Behind is the tandem-powered E1000.
As I write an article on the current state of electric flight worldwide, sad word comes that prolific, talented German aeronautical engineer Martin Wezel has died in the crash of the prototype Yuneec International E1000 electric airplane.
Wezel's company, Flugzeugtechnik Wezel, was well respected for its gliders and microlights, which included the Sting and Sirius S-LSAs.  His Apis and Viva designs were also being developed by Yuneec for electric power.
The E1000 design may also have been Wezel's.
A new, tandem-motored four-seat design, it was being developed for market by Yuneec but also to compete in the NASA CAFE Green Flight Challenge, the $1.65 million-prize competition I've been writing about here that's coming up in July.
It was also entered in EAA's upcoming Electric Aircraft Competition (Oshkosh 2011 in late July).  Not evident at this point is whether another E1000 was built or will be tested.
Details are sketchy for what was just the airplane's second flight.  Launching from Yuneec's home airport in southern China, it suffered a catastrophic failure of the tail section at 130 feet altitude just seconds later.  The empennage, which was possibly of a V-tail configuration as seen in the photo above and similar to the company's E430 electric two-seat LSA tail, was "caused by ground testing"according to Yuneec's Chairman Tian Yu.
The aircraft reportedly crashed into a lake next to the runway.  Wezel died two hours later at a local hospital.
The ballistic parachute system on board may have been deployed.  It likely would not have had enough altitude to completely deploy: most ballistic airframe "saves" occur at a minimum of 400 feet.
Mr. Yu eulogized Wezel on the company website:
“I, personally, feel extremely sorry to have lost Martin.  He was an extremely competent collaborator and most of all a very dear friend. Martin's passion for flying was a constant inspiration to all.  My deepest sympathies and condolences to Petra, Martin's wife, the Wezel family and all who knew and worked with Martin Wezel.”
We echo Mr. Yu's comments in extending our condolences to Martin Wezel's family and friends.


Anonymous said...

This is very sad. Martin Wezel was quite a prolific designer, and clearly an enthusiastic sport aviator. Is he possibly the first person to die in an all-electric aircraft?

Anonymous said...

Re Martin Wezel's fatal crash in prototype E1000 at Yuneec's home airport in China on 9th May 2011.
In more ways than one, this incident will cause a stir back in Wezel's home country Germany. In February this year a court in Zwickau, Germany, ruled that the trial was to open against Wezel charged with manslaughter of 2 people,who crashed fatally in a microlight 4 months after they had purchased it from Wezel.

Anonymous said...

I am an Aircrat Designer. What was designed by Wezel and what was built by the Chinese may be two different matters. An inquest into his death should consider this and the original design drawings verses what was actually built MUST be checked. Rumour has it that the e430 is not the same as the original designers drawings, it has been made lighter and one must ask the question, not as strong as it could be? Was this the case with the e1000? Were core aircraft design specifications 'varied' by Yuneec management in order to save money and reduce weight that Wezel did not know about? There could be blood on somebody's hands if this is the case but will we ever know....? If I was his wife, I would be asking these questions and wanting to see original unadulterated drawings and the remains of the aircraft and have an engineering report. Tail planes don't just fall off aircraft, to say it got damaged in ground testing is hongkongfooyey, how did it get damaged?

James Lawrence said...

Thank you for your comments. While I fully support the philosophy that it is good to ask questions, responsible questioning demands offering up some substantiation for claims that impugn the credibility of a particular company or its personnel.
Since I haven't heard anything from or about Yuneec's practices regarding any changes to aircraft designed by Mr. Wetzel I can't add anything substantive to your concerns.
I will say though that indeed, tails do fall off aircraft. Bonanza V-tail and Lambada motorglider are two examples. And both were rigorously designed, built and tested by top designers and engineers, yet problems still arose to otherwise top-quality aircraft. There are so many aspects to aerodynamics that we still don't fully appreciate.
So I'm inclined to note your distress - certainly we all feel a loss when talented people die - but in depth inquiry as you propose is the proper way to go forward with issues like this, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Is Yuneec still in business? Can a power system be purchased from them? The motors apear to be well made