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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS FeedElectric Aircraft Symposium charges up audience
By James Wynbrandt
 

Burt Rutan addresses the Electric Aircraft Symposium

The day may soon come when aerobatic performers at EAA AirVenture wow crowds with their use of near-silent power if efforts like Friday's first World Symposium on Electric Aircraft lead to the fielding of practical electrically powered aircraft.

The symposium drew several hundred participants and observers to the Eagle Hangar in the EAA Museum Friday to discuss and promote the state of electric-powered flight.

"Welcome to history in the making," said EAA Lifetime Member and electric aircraft advocate Craig Willan, host of the GE Aviation-sponsored event.

"It almost sounds like snake oil," he said of electric power, ticking off its advantages over internal combustion engines: motors that are several times more efficient, quiet and vibration-free, fewer moving parts, higher reliability, unaffected by altitude, and inherent torque advantages.

In opening remarks FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt pledged FAA support for research and development into electric-powered aircraft.
"For general aviation electric power, we're going to give it a big thumbs-up," Babbitt said, stating that the agency would work with industry to determine appropriate safety standards and regulations that would allow innovation.

Power with the potential of the sun
Aerospace visionary Burt Rutan, founder, chief technical officer and designer emeritus of Scaled Composites in Mojave, California, delivered the keynote address.

"I've been dreaming about doing electric airplanes ever since I was a kid" involved with electric-powered models, Rutan said. "I showed up [at Oshkosh] with a solar-powered airplane in 1976," he noted, alluding to his VariEze with a 7-watt solar panel that powered the aircraft's minimal electrical system.

In wide-ranging remarks, Rutan discussed the potential for small electric motors as emergency power sources for piston aircraft, electric-powered "urban transporter" aircraft, and mused about electric-powered aerobatic aircraft whose reversible motors would enable them to deliver symmetric or asymmetric thrust as called for by each maneuver.

"Imagine an Oshkosh air show where [the planes] dive straight toward the ground and stop," Rutan said. "They're not fantasy anymore. The RC [radio-controlled model] indoor guys are doing this.

"It's happening. It's easy to do."

"I want to inspire you to try new stuff even if it doesn't work," Rutan concluded.

"And if you do that you may have breakthroughs. If you look on the flightline [for ideas], you will be follower, not a leader."

Demonstrating potential
Chris Van Buiten, director of Sikorsky Innovations in Trumbull, Connecticut, reviewed the helicopter manufacturer's Firefly Technology Demonstrator, an electric-powered helicopter capable of 15 minutes of flight, the company unveiled at Oshkosh (Aviation Learning Center).
"This is a demonstrator, not product-a virtual conference room to instigate the discussion about electric flight," Van Buiten said.

"Electric aircraft are hard. Electric helicopters are very hard. But let's begin the journey."

Van Buiten noted that Sikorsky became interested in the applications of electric motors from seeing electric-powered drag racers that were "starting to blow the doors of gas [powered] cars."

Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, president and CEO respectively of Solar Impulse in Lausanne, Switzerland, discussed the development and record-setting flight of Solar Impulse, which Borschberg piloted earlier this month through a complete day/night cycle.

"Solar Impulse proved it was possible to fly day and night, and when you complete one cycle, you can do as many as you want," said Piccard, who in 1999 completed the first nonstop balloon circumnavigation of the earth with co-balloonist Brian Jones.

"Aviation has led the pioneering spirit in the 20th century, and I believe it has to continue. Electric aviation is not an anecdote, it's a responsibility."

Solar Impulse will next attempt a circumnavigation of the earth, flying five-day nonstop legs.

The first half of the daylong symposium concluded with the presentation of the inaugural Lindbergh Electric Airplane Prize (LEAP), presented by Erik Lindbergh, founder of Creative Solutions Alliance, a sponsor of the awards.

The E430 from Yuneec International (Booths 400-406, 417-418, UL) of Potters Bar, United Kingdom, was named Best Electric Aircraft. The $25,000 in prize money was returned to LEAP by the award winners, to be used to sponsor youth education programs.

Part 2

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