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EAA AirVenture Today is published by the Experimental Aircraft Association for EAA AirVenture from July 27 - August 3. It is distributed free on the convention grounds as well as other locations in Oshkosh and surrounding communities. Stories and photos are copyrighted 2008 by EAA AirVenture Today and EAA. Reproduction by any means is prohibited without written consent.


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The official daily newspaper of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh

Volume 9, Number 7 August 2, 2008     

Electric flight development motoring on
By Randy Dufault
The high cost of fossil fuels have-and no one seems to argue-will continue to have, a severe impact on sport aviation. EAA members, when faced with any challenge like this, respond with innovation.

"The challenge we face today is to expand and enhance personal aviation and that reinforces our roots here in the EAA. We must champion affordability, we must champion access to the sky and to space and champion innovation," said engineer lifetime EAA member Craig Willen. "The cost of fuel today, changes in the composition of fuel, and difficulties in ensuring availability of aviation fuel is a serious issue and is threatening the affordable access to the sky and requires innovation as a remedy."

Willen moderated a panel discussion on the topic of electric powered flight Thursday at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2008. Accompanying him on the forum stage were David Palombo of Aveox, an expert on direct current motor technology; Pete Buck, Chief Engineer for Sonex Aircraft; John Monnett, founder of Sonex; Randall Fishman, founder of Electric Aircraft Corporation and builder of the Electraflyer-C electric airplane; Dr. Morton Grosser of MG Consulting and a participant in the 1981 Solar Challenger solar-powered airplane project; and Erik Lindbergh of the X Prize Foundation board.

Judging from the number of people attending, and the fact that the session continued well beyond its allotted time, the interest in electric power among EAA members is extremely high.

Early in the session Willen noted that EAA is expected to announce a prize competition, intended to encourage and inspire development of practical electric-powered airplanes. While all the details are yet to be finalized, definition of what the prize program should achieve is underway. According to Willen, commitments for funding the prize have been received, but more are being sought. Erik Lindbergh, with his experience at the X Prize Foundation, has committed to helping with the program, which Willen hopes to launch by the end of the summer.
However, a key regulatory change is necessary both for the prize program, and for the further development of electric flight. In April of this year, EAA petitioned the FAA for an exemption from two aspects of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs).

Current FARs limit light-sport aircraft (LSA) to a single, reciprocating engine, a limitation intended to prevent the use of turbine and rocket powerplants. Electric motors do not qualify under the regulation, as Fishman learned when he tried to register his Electraflyer-C as an experimental LSA.

The other regulatory hurdle is a limitation to five gallons of fuel for ultralight aircraft, the weight of which is not included when calculating whether the craft meets the maximum empty weight limit. Batteries do not represent a liquid fuel and under current regulations that weight must be included in the empty weight calculation.
"We know that the advances in technology happening with hybrid and electric cars can help us transition to electric aircraft," said Randy Hansen, EAA Government Relations Director. "We want to work with the FAA to change the rules and allow electric motors in light-sport aircraft. [It is] our intent to reduce the energy cost burden on the public and make flying less costly."

Experimental, amateur-built aircraft are not bound by any such regulation. Both Fishman's Electraflyer-C and Sonex's electric project are licensed that way.

Much of the forum panel discussion centered on the need for systems integration in electric aircraft projects.
"Electric motors are simple, but some of the controller parts can be very challenging, especially as the power levels get very high," Buck said.

Other members of the panel concurred, with much discussion about battery power density and the rapid changes in technology that are underway.

Safety was another topic. Both Monnett and Fishman noted there are new and important safety concerns when flying with volatile lithium cells and high voltage systems that must be addressed.

The session finished with Adam Smith, EAA Vice President of Membership, presenting the 2008 Dr. August Raspet Memorial Award to Randall Fishman. Since 1960, the award has been presented every year to a person who has made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of light aircraft design.

Fishman's Electraflyer-C can be seen on AeroShell Square and is expected to fly at AirVenture sometime this weekend. Sonex's electric prototype is on display in the EAA Welcome Center.

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