Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Green Flight Challenge Down to Final Three!

The CAFE Green Flight Challenge is at last underway - it was originally planned for mid-July - and as of the end of today's flying, just three of the original 13 entrants are still qualified to keep going for the $1.65 million prize money.
The event, centered in Santa Rosa, Calif. (between Los Angeles and San Francisco), is sponsored by Google and is seeking to advance public awareness and the technologies of electric and high-efficiency flight .  Electric-driven aircraft have garnered most of the advance press, though most of the electric entrants have either been eliminated or couldn't get their aircraft ready in time.
The eGenius all-electric CAFE Green Flight Challenge competitor.  Photo courtesy Eric Raymond
It's a pretty simple task: fly 200 miles averaging 100 mph or greater...with one teeny tiny hitch: fuel or fuel equivalent (electric or electric/hybrid) burn can only be one gallon of fuel.  That's right: one (1) gallon.  That's 200 mpg, looked at another way.  Daunting, to say the least.
Every task day there are different challenges to test the full mettle of each aircraft and pilot, such as a strictly economy run, a maximum decibel test, then the final speed/economy run on the last day.
One entry, the Eco-Eagle, in the works for 2 years from Embry-Riddle Aviation University, was just disqualified because the race rules specify a two-place airplane must fly with two people, not just a pilot and an equivalent copilot weight in the other seat.  But Embry-Riddle's rules specify only one ER participant can fly in a competition event.  The Eco-Eagle also did not have a fully functioning airframe parachute system, although one was aboard, and that violated another CAFE requirement.
The officials, with full consent of the other competitors, will allow the aircraft to fly in the race as a demonstration aircraft, and although it's not eligible for an award, it will be interesting to see how it fares against the others.
Gotta say, somebody didn't do their homework.  Those poor kids at Embry Riddle worked for two years and nobody figured out they wouldn't be legal because of a basic rule: flying with all seats filled?  Hard to figure that one, but kudos to the team and the competitors for encouraging the ER team to be part of the event: they've certainly earned it.  The aircraft was performing very well in practice runs according to varied reports from the field.
In a bit of a surprise, old friend Jim Lee in the Rotax-powered Phoenix is one of the three remaining competitors!  Jim's a master at squeezing every last bit of performance out of whatever he flies (as I've written before, he held the distance hang glider record for years back in the '80s and is an accomplished sailplane pilot).  And he really loves nibbling the thermic potentials in his elegant, high tech Phoenix motorglider, for which he's also the U.S. distributor.
Ah, my misspent youth: if only I could afford one...or  a Pipistrel Vinus or Sinus...or Eric Raymond's Sunseeker...alright kid, snap out of it.
I don't know yet what happened to the electric version, the PhoEnix, other than it couldn't be made ready for race date in time or perhaps wasn't performing up to expectations.
Many people are reporting that it's the electric version that's flying, but Jim's comments in the video below would seem to put the kibosh on that.  Too bad PhoEnix is out, it was a promising entry...but also kind of cool that a gas-powered motorglider is even in the finals.  Good hunting Jimbo!

Having the stock 100 hp Rotax-powered Phoenix in the final running should be a great PR boost too for what is already the sweetheart motorglider of the LSA genre.  Motorgliders are gaining more attention from pilots who want more than point A to point B flying on their plates.
One of the other two remaining entrants is the Pipistrel Taurus G4 (this link goes to Pipistrel's Michael Coates's gallery of GFC photos, worthy of a look).  The G4 is in essence a purpose-built joining of two Taurus G2 electric motorglider fuselages onto a larger wing with an electric powered motor-only pod at wing center - a wild jump of ingenuity because being able to carry four passengers, two in each pod, (which CAFE rules require them to do) does qualify the aircraft to carry the equivalent of four gallons of gasoline in electric power storage capacity - one gallon per person is the rule, for 200 miles at 100 mph.  The G4 may turn out to be a winning strategy, if the economy is there.
eGenius, designed by Univ. of Stuttgart engineeers.  photo courtesy Airbus
The final entrant is e-Genius, built by University of Stuttgart aeronautical engineers and students and a formidable entry in its own right.
Today's event required all entrants to meet the noise level ceiling of 78 dBA during full-power takeoff, as measured from 250 feet away. All three (four counting the non prize- qualified Eco-Eagle) met the challenge.

Monday, September 26, 2011

REMOS GXeLite: Super Diet?

Sign of the times: cut costs wherever possible.  And kudos to those LSA makers who can cut weight too!
Remos Aircraft has a lower-priced, dramatically lighter version of its flagship GX that bears closer scrutiny. 
It’s called GXeLite, and lists at $133,924.
All photos courtesy Remos Aircraft
The model is targeted at pilots, clubs and flights schools that don’t feel the need for all the latest high-tech glass and embellishments.  Typically, “loaded” models like the GX and new GXNXT models price out at well over the wallet-flattening $150K mark. 
The eLite is dramatically lighter in empty weight too: just 638 lbs. (My recent flight report on the NXT listed that model’s empty weight at 718, or 90 lbs. heavier!).  That would allow full tanks as well as some truly hefty passengers too, since the useful load is 682 lbs.!
The main steps taken to lighten the load on the eLite include reinstating the composite landing gear, using carbon fiber instead of metal wing struts, new carbon fiber seats and a new instrument panel, which is lighter as well as lower.
All of this adds up to good news for people interested in Remos.  I’ve found the GX in general to be among the easiest, most enjoyable all-around airplanes I’ve ever flown.  It has a wonderfully harmonious control balance, light, solid control feel, well-behaved takeoff and landing characteristics, and is simply a joy to fly.
This Remos panel chart also shows a FlymapL moving map.
The eLite also offers a ballistic parachute safety system as an option rather than standard equipment, along with that lower-profile panel which enhances forward visibility.
The panel still mounts a good rack of gadgets, starting off with Dynon's workhorse D-180 EFIS/EMS panel and Becker’s Com AR6201 transceiver and BXP6401 transponder.  Power comes from the proven 80 hp Rotax 912.
Even though the lower-cost electrical system eliminates interior lighting needed for night flight (something day VFR-restricted Sport Pilots don't deal with anyway), the eLite still has anti-collision, position and landing lights.
An interior storage area has been removed and there is now only one coat of paint, to help with the load-lightening engineering. 
But think about that Remos diet plan: they took an already-light weight LSA airplane and managed to trim more than 11% more! 
Owners can still opt for all the Remos options the more robust models have, but I’d like to compare this lighter version to the heavier GX to see if there’s an appreciable difference in crosswinds and turbulence. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Three If By Sea

Some bright minds at LISA Airplanes, a French company, had a great idea to take the hydrofoil concept and apply it to an LSA seaplane.  I’d often wondered why hydrofoils haven’t been done before, it’s such a great concept.
AKOYA artist's rendering...but the airplane is flying.  Photos courtesy LISA
Anyway, the airplane is the AKOYA.  The technology for the entire package is patented and called Multi-Access, not the most sizzling name but what the hey, look at how cool those little moustache water wings look sticking out from the hull!
Now get this: the company claims AKOYA operates as easily from land as from water...or snow! First, to those water wings sticking out: they’re called Seafoils, a trademarked name, which adds a little more marketing sizzle to this steak.
They’re connected to a retractable gear that can be rigged with wheels or skis, I guess, and also to motor-driven, pivoting wings!  There's also a chute onboard.  Very neat.

LISA Airplanes _ AKOYA premiere from LISA Airplanes on Vimeo.
The airplane is spec’d out at 18.5 gallons yet can fly 680 miles at 110 knots!  No restrictions to local pond hopping for this seabird.
GĂ©rald Ducoin, a test pilot who flew the plane, praises the revolutionary Seafoils which “offer both fast lift-off and stability.  They also considerably simplify landing manevers and taking off from water.”
Spacey interior...maybe AKOYA and ICON's A5 can go on a date
With a 100 hp Rotax, the company claims a 650 foot take/landing distance.
The company is clearnly not worried about it’s high price: €300,000!  That's Euros, cousins, not greenbacks.
I hasten to add that LISA will throw in pilot training for all three modes of landing, “personalization” of the airplane, and three years of maintenance and full-time customer assistance.
The more this LSA phenomenon grows, the more interesting it gets.
Skis...wheels...water...what's not to like?
AKOYA is in flight test mode in France and announces it expects to get LSA certification by mid-2012. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Electric Whirlybird Flies!

Anyone still in doubt that we're in the midst of the birth of electric flight need look no further than this story, just posted today on the online tech zine Gizmag.
Historic hovering flight lasted 2 minutes 10 seconds.  All photos courtesy Gizmag
Pascal Chretien, an enterprising electrical/aerospace engineer and chopper pilot, made the world's first fully electric helicopter flight in the prototype he designed and built almost entirely by just 12 months!  Hang glider and ultralight trike pilots will delight in hearing a weight shift control system is involved.
For me, the big story here is once again we see that innovation lives, not just in megabuck corporate and government R&D departments but in the garages of individual megabrains as it always has and we can expect always will.
Weight shift control!
Chretien, in making his 2 minute, 10 second test eggbeater flight, threw whipped eggs in Sikorsky's face since that aviation giant's well-funded electric project, in development for some time now, has yet to fly.
Gizmag quotes Chretien as he acknowledged the risks of his flight: "In case of crash I stand good chances to end up in kebab form."
Detail: power controller and battery pack (upper left)
Pascal, from case of your success, we pops cork of champagne pour vous!
The article goes on to rightly point out that the electric chopper concept faces a huge hurdle when compared to winged electric aircraft because the latter doesn't need to constantly run at higher power drain settings like helicopters do.
Practical electric helicopters will only come to pass when battery technologies advance to a much higher power-to-weight storage capacity (i.e., higher energy density) than we have now, precisely because choppers do require high power for hovering, takeoff and for descent, unlike airplanes.
Winged birds use max power for takeoff or high speed cruising, but can lope along at significantly reduced level flight power, enabling longer duration flights.  That's why we've seen so many motorglider-style electrics; once airborne, their highly efficient wings make possible extended flight times without much power burn.
Still, that takes nothing away from Pascal Chretien's achievement, (funded by the French car racing company Solution F), which is nothing short of magnificent.  His super-light, super-simple chopper serves notice that electric flight as a whole is gaining global momentum across a broad range of projects.
And once again we get a lesson in an ancient truth: the soul of invention is alive and well and knows no boundaries.