The National Aeronautic and Space Administration awarded a Pennsylvania-based team’s electric-powered hybrid plane that flew 200 miles $1.35 million for the feat.
The winner of NASA’s CAFE Green Flight Challenge, Team Pipstrel-USA.com, received the largest prize awarded in the US space agency’s history. The amazing electric aircraft flew the 200 miles in under two hours and used a stingy half-gallon of gasoline for each passenger it carried on the flight.
“Two years ago, the thought of flying 200 miles at 100 miles per hour in an electric aircraft was pure science fiction,” Jack Langelaan, team leader of Team Pipistrel-USA.com, said during the award ceremony. “Now we are all looking forward to the future of electric aviation.”
History of electric flight has its ups and downs
The earliest known flight using electricity was a propeller-driven airship powered by an electric motor. The year was 1883 and inventor-aviator Gaston Tissandier of France entered the record books.
Two other daring airmen, Charles Renard and Arthur Krebs, followed Tissandier’s feat the following year by piloting another airship with a more powerful electric motor.
Famous Czech inventor Nikola Tesla planned to create electric aircraft powered by broadcast energy. He wasn’t able to secure the financial backing needed to get the idea off the ground.
Decades followed with no electrically powered craft—other than model airplanes—until engineer William C. Brown arrived on the scene with a large protype model of a helicopter powered by microwave beams. The novelty caught the attention of the news medai and during 1964 Brown demonstrated the helicopter’s capabilities for Walter Cronkite and the 1964 audience of the “CBS Evening News.”
And that was the last of any serious effort to combine electrical motive power with flight until the early 1970s.
That decade and the ones that came after, saw the advancement of small aircraft powered by electric motors. The goal was primarily to build private aircraft for student flight schools.
Then, in 2007, the first annual Electric Aircraft Symposium was held in San Francisco, California. The event was organized by the CAFE Foundation, a non-profit organization that develops new aviation concepts and stages flight testing of experimental aircraft. It’s located in Winsdor, California.
Each year the annual event drew more aviation enthusiasts and sponsors such as the United States Air Force, NASA, scientific laboratories and aircraft manufacturers.
As the worldwide Green Revolution grew so did the concept of a clean, non-petroleum burning airplane. Inventors and aircraft designers turned their focus back onto the electric plane.
CAFE Green Flight Challenge
During the past several years, the CAFE symposium grew into a formal challenge to aviators. A contest developed backed by corporate sponsors and NASA. The 2011 Challenge included sponsorship by Internet Goliath Google.
The flight challenge concept can trace its inspiration back to the earlier part of the last century when famous aviator Charles Lindbergh won the 1927 $25,000 Orteig prize for successfully crossing the Atlantic Ocean.
Helping officiate the event, Joe Parrish, NASA’s acting chief technologist, told reporters that the Challenge’s competing participants proved that “ultra-efficient aviation is within our grasp.”
“The winning aircraft featured a dual-fuselage design, ultralight 75-foot wingspan and a 6.5-foot-wide propeller powered by 450 pounds of lithium-polymer batteries.” [Electric aircraft