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
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
"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
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
"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."
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
"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.