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CAFE Symposium Celebrates the 'Dawn of Electric Flight'
Part 1

Electric power dominates discussions but diesel-powered Synergy steals the show

By Patrick Panzera, Editor — Experimenter, EAA 555743

Part 2

Prop rig
Returning from last year’s event was JoeBen Bevirt, CEO of Joby Aviation, who gave an actual demonstration of the electric motors his company offers by ushering the attendees outside to watch his truck-mounted motor and propeller run.

May 3, 2011 —The Fifth Annual CAFE Electric Aircraft Symposium came to a close early Saturday afternoon, but the conversations and the networking continued well into Sunday. And frankly, that’s what the event was about, bringing like-minded individuals together to openly share ideas and resources to further the cause - viable electric flight.

With more than 30 presenters giving 20-minute (or longer) lectures, starting at 8 each morning (and ending at nearly 6 p.m. on Friday), the information came fast and furious. The event was opened with a very brief introduction from CAFE President Dr. Brien Seeley, when he dubbed the 2011 event "the dawn of electric flight," citing that there has been "exponential growth" since the first symposium in 2007.

Returning from last year’s event was JoeBen Bevirt, CEO of Joby Aviation, who gave an actual demonstration of the electric motors his company offers by ushering the attendees outside to watch his truck-mounted motor and propeller run.

The rig is used for real-time performance analysis of the motor and prop while in forward motion - a poor-man’s wind tunnel as it were.

Click to see the gallery
Click to see the image gallery

One of the most captivating presentations was a semi-detailed description with photos of each of the 13 CAFE Green Flight Challenge entrants, scheduled to compete July 11-17, 2011. Although the list of competitors/participants has been on the website for some time now, CAFE Vice President Larry Ford gave an updated account of the details of what would be flown. And it was at this time that symposium attendees were given a glimpse of Synergy, the brainchild of EAA member John McGinnis, who was the final presenter of the first day. Although not an electric aircraft, the McGinnis presentation and formal unveiling of his five-place "double-box-tail" design was perhaps the most fascinating presentation of the two-day event. EAA was fortunate enough to have a simultaneous unveiling on the website.

The topics at CAFE were broad and varied, many of which were not directly related to electric aircraft, but were related to the future of aviation, which could include electric flight. One line of thought that was interwoven throughout the lectures was that of autonomous flight with Seeley proposing that one day we may receive a Domino’s Pizza delivered to our door by an unmanned aerial vehicle.

The most varied presentation of the symposium was given by keynote speaker and NASA Chief Scientist Dennis Bushnell, whose lecture was titled “Emerging Technologies for Electric Aircraft, Frontiers of the Responsibly Imaginable.” Speaking for more than 50 minutes, Bushnell threw information at an alarming rate. Any one topic could have been the topic of his entire 50 minutes of allotted time, but he touched on what seemed to be hundreds. One question fielded after the lecture asked how he kept his head from exploding.

In a break from the PowerPoint-style presentations, multiple experts of related fields sat in chairs and fielded questions from the audience. One such open forum, or panel discussion if you will, included John Roncz, noted expert on airfoil design. The topic was Goldschmied propulsion, an intriguing way to turn drag into thrust, a topic that captivated the audience.

John McGinnis with a working model of his Synergy aircraft.

Giving the most hope to the next step in electric flight was battery expert Huw Hampson-Jones, CEO of Oxis Energy, who came all the way from the United Kingdom to speak on the next generation batteries. His company has pioneered proprietary Polymer Lithium-Sulphur electrochemistry to produce a low-weight lithium rechargeable battery to service the burgeoning electric bicycle (eBike) industry, among others.

Experts and novices alike will agree that the roadblock to electric flight is the battery and new technology is key. Although one might think that the economy of scale from the automobile industry will be the answer, it’s very likely that eBike technology will get us there a lot sooner. With developing countries such as China already having a bicycle infrastructure in place, the acceptance and integration of an eBike into various communities is a logical and "affordable" next step. This creates an instant market for eBikes with a huge demand to fill, allowing market forces to spur ever-increasing efficiencies in electric vehicle technology, including motors and controllers.

Part 2


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