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EAA Experimenter

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Electric Flight

Is it the future of sport aviation or just another pipe dream?

By Patrick Panzera, EAA 555743, ppanzera@eaa.org

Pat Panzera

As I write this, I’ve yet to unpack my bags after returning home from Sun ’n Fun, and I’ve yet to unpack my van and trailer from CONTACT! Magazine’s Alternative Engine Round-Up in Jean, Nevada, that was held a few weeks ago. In a few hours of this writing, I’ll be leaving for the 2010 CAFE Foundation Electric Aircraft Symposium where I hope to get the answer to the question in the subtitle of this editorial.

Yes, I’ve been a busy guy lately, but that’s not my focus right now; I just wanted to let you know that I’ve been working...for you. When my time isn’t being spent trying to eke out a living in the current economy, I’m trying to dig up the really cool, cutting-edge stuff I know you’ll enjoy, and that takes me all over the country. I’m certainly not complaining; I love doing it, seeing new things, meeting new people, and reuniting with old friends, but it can get exhausting.

The CAFE Foundation has been around a long time. I won’t go into all the details, but if you’re interested, you can read the particulars by clicking here. The focus of CAFE is with efficacy of flight and the promotion of taking aviation to the next level. Not long ago, it seemed that one focus was on roadable aircraft, sometimes referred to as PAVs (personal air vehicles). In 2007, CAFE awarded $250,000 of NASA PAV prize money, split between the four contestants, with 10 percent of that going to a Cessna 172. The other three competitors consisted of an RV-4 that took home $50,000 for having a noise level three times quieter than most small aircraft, and two different Pipistrels that took home the majority of the balance. 2008 wasn’t a lot different with one Pipistrel and one Lambada sharing all but $3,750 (of the nearly $100,000 prize money) that was won by a Flight Design CT; no one won the Green Prize.

Randall Fishman’s ElectraFlyer motor and battery on display at Sun ‘n Fun 2009

But now it seems that the focus of CAFE is on electric flight with the hosting of the fourth annual symposium as mentioned earlier. We’ve watched the advancement of electric flight at Sun ’n Fun for several years in a row with the work that Randall Fishman has achieved with his ElectraFlyer, and we’ve seen a few press releases here and there and static exhibits, such as the one at Sun ’n Fun this year and AirVenture last year, but we aren’t seeing the explosion that I’ve been personally hoping for – probably as a result of believing the hype... which I still want to do. 

So right now, I’m very optimistic my enthusiasm and belief that electric flight will be the “next big thing” will be reenergized this weekend while attending the Electric Aircraft Symposium, and hopefully I can share with you next time some of what I’ll learn.

Why the Thatcher?
I hope you weren’t deceived with my use of a Thatcher CX4 in the lead-in to this article. When I sat down to write this editorial, my interests for a topic were mixed: the symposium (which is heavily on my mind as I’ll be leaving soon for my 250 mile drive to Northern California,) the Titan T-51 since it’s a major feature in this issue and because I got some stick time in one at Sun ’n Fun (what a hoot!), and of course the Thatcher since Ted’s article in this issue is so inspiring.

The symposium won out (obviously). But I still wanted to pay homage to the Thatcher because while at Sun ‘n Fun last week, I got to sit in it for the first time (and I fit!) and because I was able to direct my dear friend Ashlynd Leighton toward the purchase of a set of plans while we were there. I can’t express how thrilled I am that she has taken the first step toward building and flying her own plane. I just wish we didn’t live 3,000 miles apart, so I could physically help her through the process. In any case, you can trust that we’ll be following her progress in future issues of Experimenter and CONTACT! Magazine.

And to bring it full circle, the CX4 is certainly a viable contender for electric flight, when the technology finally arrives. 

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