Uber Elevate, headed toward its third annual meeting in Washington, D. C., has established guidelines for what it wants to see flying in its service.  Lilium, a German electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing maker, has flown a vehicle that seems to meet those guidelines.

The web site, A New Domain.net, notes, “The authors of the Uber paper point out that the high-profile German concept, the Lilium, is a ‘push to extremely high levels of distribution while coupling the vertical lift in closely with the wing high-lift system.’ The concern here, however, is that such jet-lift approaches “will require substantially higher power for takeoff and landing, with greater challenges operating quietly within cities,” according to the Uber paper.”

“From the looks of it, Lilium still looks awfully cool. Due in 2018, Lilium is an egg-shaped plane and oft noted as a key development by European Space Agency (ESA) reps. Capable of a top speed of 250mph and a range of 300 miles, it is said to require just a 50×50 foot place to take off.”

Electric Flight.eu, a great resource for new entries into the electric flight realm, reports, “Lilium celebrated another maiden flight. This time, however, with a really 1: 1 pattern of the five-seat Lilium Jet in front of its own employees.  Still rather uncertain, like a flying stork, because of still seemingly unbalanced flight control, the construction took off at the airport Oberpfaffenhofen near Munich, where the enterprise is now also settled with approximately 300 coworkers. The one-and-a-half-tonne prototype, powered by 36 electric motors, started vertically, remained hovering and again landed vertically. The Chinese IT company Tencent and other investors had already given Lilium almost 90 million euros.”

Uber Black in the Black?

Lilium’s latest might provide Uber with the revenue carrying size it needs to be profitable, if operating costs can be held within tolerable limits.  Uber keeps promising that its aerial service will cost riders no more than its ground-bound Black service.

How Much Does Uber Typically Cost?

Initial Fee Price Per Mile Price Per Minute Service Cost
uberX $0.40 $0.97 $0.14 $1.58
uberXL $2.15 $1.68 $0.26 $1.70
UberSELECT $4.02 $2.17 $0.33 $1.70
UberBLACK $7.22 $3.33 $0.44 $1.80
UberSUV $14 $4 $0.49 $0
LUX $15.65 $4.35 $0.52 $1.80

Uber explains, “You can expect to pay anywhere from $5 on up. Charges may increase if there’s a surge in rider demand since the rates are dynamic. While each ride is limited to a distance of 100 miles (160 km), always keep an eye on the upfront fare as it won’t always be the same. The average costs for each main car service are shown above.”  We can hope that the aerial fees will be less obfuscatory than this explanation.

Time or Money, or Both?

Looking at travel times on Google Maps, we can see the relative times going from San Francisco to San Jose consume.  Cars can zip along the 51 miles in about an hour on a relatively clear 101 highway.  During gridlock early in the morning or late in the day, that can go up to over two hours.  At its 168 mph cruising speed, a Lilium EV could turn that into a 20-minute trip.  It would be preferable to take the rate per minute under that scenario, if Uber would permit (doubtful).  That would make the quick ride about $35.  The per-mile rate would raise that to $178.85, a potentially tough sell for even the well-heeled.

Lilium founders: (left to right) Daniel Wiegand, Sebastian Born, Patrick Nathen, Matthias Meiner

One can take CalTran between the two cities for $9.95 one way, or $21.00 for a day pass.  Depending on day or weekend schedules, the trip between San Francisco and San Jose will take around one hour and 20 minutes.  So, time and money can be deciding factors, although a quick aerial jaunt would have enough excitement to cause some to make that choice.

Building a New Infrastructure

Uber had an architectural competition for Skyports that would support the rapid dispatch and retrieval of Uber Elevate vehicles.  John Badalamenti, uber’s head of design for advanced programs and aviation, said “while uberair might feel like a far away dream, it’s closer than you think and urban infrastructure has to start to evolve now to keep up.  Such visions need solid ground underneath, and sites need to be located and purchased at the earliest possible date, since land prices will only increase in the future.

Note the need for connections to freeways, highways, bus routes and rail connections.  Somehow, all those Elevate passengers have to have easy access to the Skyports to make the aerial trips worth the possible premium prices, and then achieve ground times that will support the short flight times.

As with electric aircraft and eVTOLs, the vehicles themselves, their motors, controllers, and control systems all seem well proven and reliable at this point.  Batteries still need work.  The biggest impediment to future success may be in the ground support systems required to maintain the goals achieved in flight.

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Fortune magazine headlined its article about Zipline drones with this teaser: “The Trick to Achieving Universal Health Care? Drones.”  The article quotes Zipline International CEO Keller Rinaudo concerning the logistics of today’s health care systems, which “really only serve the ‘golden billion’ people on the planet.”  Fortune adds, “Millions more die from lack of care.”

Rinaudo spoke to Fortune’s Brainstorm Health Conference in San Diego, and explained how his Silicon Valley technology delivers 60-percent of Rwanda’s national blood supply – by drone.  About half of the blood goes to mothers suffering from postpartum hemorrhaging.

With excellent results in Rwanda, Zipline will set up four distribution centers in Ghana, starting on April 24.  These centers will serve about 20 million people.  Fortune explains, “For Rinaudo, drones are a way for a nation to access universal health care almost overnight. Call it a golden idea.”

Time is Worth More than Money in the Medical World

Evan Ackerman and Michael Koziol report in the IEEE Spectrum that they drove from “the small town of Muhanga to the even smaller town of Kinazi,” a 50-kilometer journey.   It took “well over an hour” to rendezvous with a Zipline drone that made the trip in under 14 minutes.  Granted, the roads in Rwanda are pretty awful, and there are thousands of hills encroaching trucks along the way, the two-motor drone does show some “zip.”  The writers arrive in time to see the drone open its bombay-like doors and drop a red parachute carrying containers of blood near the local hospital’s parking lot.

Two “Fulfillment Centers” supply drone deliveries to virtually all of Rwanda.  Illustration: IEEE Spectrum

Zipline relies on some pretty sophisticated infrastructure in a country with roads sometimes hardly worthy of the name.  Despite having been in the throes of a civil war and genocide in the 1990s, the government started a program called Vision 2020 that emphasized technology infrastructure, including fiber optics and 4G cellular networks that now cover 95 percent of the population.

13,864 Deliveries

On its web site, Zipline numbers its life-saving deliveries, counted at 13,824 last night when your editor started his research, and now at 13,864 less than 18 hours later.  How does Zipline manage such productivity?  From its distribution centers in Muhanga and Kayonza, and with drones capable of flying 80 kilometers (49.6 miles) each way out and return, Zipline can deliver to virtually any hospital in the small country.

Eli Whitney and Henry Ford Still Inspire

Identical components, stored in Zipline fulfillment center, are assembled by technicians in preparation for delivery flight.   Note catapult in background. Illustration: IEEE Spectrum

The drones are stacked neatly at each distribution, or fulfillment center, with battery packs being charged and cargo holds awaiting their precious cargo.  A WhatsApp message comes in to the “nest,” as Zipline calls its fulfillment centers, and workers have the drone ready to deliver in no longer than 10 minutes.  (Operators want to shorten that to one minute.)  When a technician plugs the battery pack into the airplane, he or she has also loads the flight plan as part of that pack.  Another technician loads a box containing the blood or other required cargo in the bomb bay.  The team mounts the wings in place and secures them with what look like a pair of over-center latches.  Scanning QR codes, workers perform a pre-flight checklist with what seem to be failsafe precision.

With only a few major components to be assembled before each trip, Zips, as the drones are called, are simple, meet the range requirements for the mission, and have redundancy in things like dual motors and dual ailerons to ensure successful completion of that mission.

Future plans call for lighter battery packs and 1.75-kilogram (3.85-pound) payloads compared to the 1.3 kilograms (2.86 pounds) currently carried, enabling the Zips to deliver three blood packs instead of only two.  IEEE reports, “It will also have a receiver for transponder signals from other aircraft, a backup communication system that uses a satellite link, and onboard sense-and-avoid equipment that will, [Eric] Watson (a systems engineer at Zipline) says, “be able to detect and avoid uncooperative aircraft in our airspace.” This advanced feature will likely become a safety-critical system for delivery drones as the skies get more crowded.”

That’s an innovation-packed future for the tiny country, and it shows a way to integrate such drones into even our own crowded airspace.

Zipline’s drones are modular. When an order comes in, technicians snap together the three main components: the lightweight foam chassis [1], the wings [2], and the battery unit [3], which also contains the flight plan. Scanning QR codes [4] initiates automatic preflight tests of the drone’s systems. To keep the drone flying in the event of a minor mechanical failure, it has two motors [5] and redundant ailerons [6] on the wings that help maintain flight control. The drone’s cargo compartment [7] contains the package of blood until it’s parachuted down to the delivery site.To obviate the need for a lengthy runway for takeoffs and landings, an electric catapult launches the drone, and a wire strung between towers captures the returning drone by snagging a 3-centimeter metal hook [8] on the drone’s tail.  Illustration: Chris Philpot

The full IEEE article appears in the May 2019 print issue as “The Blood Is Here.”

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Straight out of Compton/Woodley

We don’t normally republish complete press releases, but this example from Taja Boscarol at Pipistrel, the Slovenian electric aircraft company, seems worthy of a full reading.

Los Angeles County Promoting Green Aviation

Compton/Woodley Airport Acquires Pipistrel Alpha Electro Aircraft & Charging Station

Los Angeles County Public Works, in partnership with Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum welcomed the nation’s first commercial electric aircraft charging station at Compton/Woodley Airport.  The Pipistrel  SkyCharge  docking  station will  support the museum’s two ALPHA Electro  Light  Sport all-electric  aircraft and  ultimately other electric  aircraft  in  the  future  as  electric  aircraft gain interest.

Sleek look of Pipistrel chargers compliment Alpha Electro Trainer’s design

The SkyCharge docking station allows two aircraft to simultaneously charge an empty battery in 45 minutes.

​Expansion of Electric Aircraft at the County-owned Airports

Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum is planning to install additional Pipistrel SkyCharge docking stations throughout the County of Los Angeles system of airports. San Gabriel Valley Airport, located in the City of El Monte, will be next to receive the docking stations. As the ALPHA Electro and other electric aircraft become more abundant and availability of the SkyCharge docking stations expands, pilot training and general aviation overall will become greener – quieter, cleaner, more sustainable, affordable, and compatible with the environment and local communities.

Robin Petgrave, founder and executive director of Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum, shows one of two Pipistrel Alpha Electros to be based at Compton/Woodley near  the Museum

Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum

Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum is a non-profit organization at Compton/Woodley Airport, which supports the surrounding communities through aviation education, interactive after school programs such as STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics] education, and flight training. The Museum introduces disadvantaged youth to flight and provides a pathway to employment in the aviation industry and beyond. 

The ALPHA Electro

The video depicts the first takeoff by an Alpha Electro from Fresno Chandler’s  airport (KFCH).

The Pipistrel ALPHA Electro Light Sport is a 2-seat, single-engine, all-electric aircraft designed and manufactured in Europe specifically for flight training. The aircraft operates on a zero-emission lithium-ion battery, a sustainable source of energy which significantly reduces geenhouse gases. In addition, a recent study performed by Pipistrel showed that the ALPHA Electro operates at much quieter noise levels than do its gas-powered counterparts. The aircraft are currently certified to operate in rural areas and are in use at Fresno Chandler Executive Airport. Certification    from the FAA to allow for operation of the ALPHA Electro within urban areas including the Los Angeles metropolitan area is anticipated to occur soon. Following certification, Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum will immediately put them to use at Compton/Woodley Airport.

Formulated by Joseph Oldham, the Sustainable Aviation Project brought Pipistrel Alpha Electro’s to the San Fernando Valley last year, and is preparing to offer flight training to disadvantaged youth at four different airports in the region.

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Eviation is an Israeli aircraft company which believes in giving its customers a choice.  About to be shown at the Paris Air Show in July, Eviation’s Alice will be offered with either Siemens motors or MagniX units.  Air show visitors will see the craft with three Magnix 250 motors producing 375-horsepower each.  Roei Ganzarski, MagniX CEO says “They’re going to have a fully functioning aircraft, their first of type, at the Paris Air Show.  Our propulsion system is going to be on it.”

MagniX Magni250 motor – three of which will power Eviation’s Alice

Eviation’s nine-seat Alice is a bit of a trip through the looking glass, looking like a futurist’s dream machine.  The modern tri-motor features such light construction that it can carry three tons of batteries to provide 650 mile range.  Ganzarski explains, “That means you can easily do Seattle-San Francisco or other significant-range flights.  It’s a real long-range commuter aircraft.”

Why Two Different Motors?

Only a few months after announcing its use of Siemens motors on its Alice, Eviation says it has selected Redmond, Wash.-based MagniX to become a propulsion system provider. The company announced its partnership with MagniX on its Twitter page

In an interview with GeekWire.com, Ganzarski explains, “Once you can have an aircraft like the Alice that operates at such a low cost compared to traditional aircraft, and is clean, we both believe that will create a new type of market that doesn’t exist today. It won’t be filled by the regional carriers, but rather by new types of companies that will set up services for movement of either people or goods — for example, delivery companies — and they’ll be able to do that by air, covering more distance at a much lower cost than trucks can.”

According to Forbes.com, Eviation is working “feverishly” to prepare Alice for the Paris Air Show, June 17 through 23.  Following its static display, the airplane will be transported to the United States to under flight testing and coordination with the FAA to prepare for certification.  Headquartered in Israel, Eviation wants to have the plane certified by the end of 2021 and aims to start delivering the planes to customers in 2022.

Forbes reported in February, “The 35-employee company is getting its funding and supply chain squared away. It says it’s secured the roughly $200 million it needs to get through certification, and it announced Wednesday that it will source high-power electric motors from Siemens.”

Part of having two motor suppliers is to ease demands on the supply chain, so it added a Magnix option in late April.  That choice may also relate to Eviation’s funding source.

Forbes reports, “The lion’s share of its funding is from Clermont Group, the private investment fund of Singapore-based billionaire Richard Chandler, which is giving Eviation $76 million in exchange for notes convertible to a 70% stake in the company, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission dated January 3.”  Chandler has also invested heavily in MagniX.

Alice will be assembled and tested in Prescott, Arizona. Leland Moreno-Hilburn, executive director and general manager for Eviation Aircraft Inc., says up to 20 personnel will be involved in integration and certification programs.

MagniX has also partnered with Vancouver, B. C.-based Harbour Air, and plans to convert the 40-airplane fleet to electric power, starting with the regional carrier’s DeHavilland Beavers, expected to be electrified by late this year or early next year.  This will be huge production ramp-up for the small motor firm, and will see their motors on a sleek new design and a 1950’s bush plane.

Harbour Air’s DeHavilland Beavers, Otters and Twin Otters will soon be powered by MagniX electric motors

On the sleeker side, Eviation’s CEO Omer Bar-Yohay says, “We have been successfully testing the MagniX system with our Alice aircraft propeller for quite some time now, with great results.  We will begin manufacturing battery-powered fleets this year for our U.S. regional carrier customers, with a value proposition that reduces their operating costs by up to 70 percent.”

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Cuberg Battery Flies 70 Percent Longer

Cuberg’s recent test between their battery and a conventional lithium-ion battery resulted in the Cuberg battery keeping a drone flying 70-percent longer.  Given that the test is for two packs of equal weight, the result is an impressive one.

Cuberg’s co-founder and CEO has prepared for this success since his undergraduate days as a SURF (Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship) Fellow, putting his summer vacations to good use.  He used the knowledge and experience he gained in three summer fellowships to help lead a dozen students “to design and develop innovative and efficient mechanical systems (including HVAC, hot water, insulation, appliances, and more) for the Solar Decathlon net-zero house competition.”  The team won first place in the hot water contest and second place in the engineering contest in the Decathlon.

Since then, he worked as an intern at Tesla Motors, using “physical, chemical, and electrochemical characterization techniques to study the degradation mechanisms of Li-ion batteries at the Cell Research Lab.” This led to the discovery of “a novel degradation mechanism in the battery cathode.”

He was a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford under Dr. Yi Cui from 2011 to 2016, and acted as an engineering advisor. Obviously talented, he was accepted into Cyclotron Road, Cyclotron Road, “A home for top entrepreneurial researchers to advance technologies until they can succeed beyond the research lab. Its purpose: support critical technology development and help identify the most suitable business models, partners, and financing mechanisms for long-term impact.”

The long-term impact of his firm’s batteries may be significant. With batteries being the major obstacle to hundreds of enterprises embarking on the road to producing viable electric vertical takeoff and landing or conventional aircraft, 70-percent improvements in range and endurance are noteworthy.

The company’s web site defines Richard Wang’s goals for it. “Cuberg is an energy startup company developing a new generation of safer and higher energy batteries based on an entirely new chemistry coming out of research at Stanford University. Our technology will power the portable electronics of the future and bring about electric vehicles with improved affordability and range.”

Cuberg’s battery structure.  A great deal depends on the stable electrolyte that makes the use of a lithium metal anode possible.

A big part of Cuberg’s success comes from its electrolyte, the source of concern in conventional Li-ion cells. Cuberg notes that scaling up the energy demand on batteries makes their fire hazard grow.   Not being able to vent gases from a hot battery leads to overheating and thermal runaway. Cuberg’s electrolyte is stable, even when overheated. Their electrolyte can even be incorporated into existing batteries, with safer operation as a result. But Cuberg’s combination of a lithium metal anode, proprietary electrolyte, and high-energy cathode probably enabled that 70-percent endurance advantage in their recent test.

We can hardly wait for the company to achieve commercial breakthroughs that equal their battery advancements. Boeing and the Department of Energy have helped with funding in the last year, with Boeing having a vested interest in seeing company possibly provide batteries for their Zunum electric airliners.

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First Drone Delivery of a Kidney

Meredith Cohn of the Baltimore Sun reported, “The first-ever organ delivered by drone was transplanted into a patient with kidney failure at the University of Maryland Medical Center, capping more than three years of work to show unmanned aircraft can safely transport life-saving organs and tissue.”

Note one doctor in the video, making a homage to Apollo 11: “One small hop for a drone, one major leap for medicine.”  Note the cheers of waiting personnel when the drone lands successfully.

As reported in Aero-News Network, “On Friday, April 19th, at approximately 12:30 am, a human donor kidney was loaded onto the UMMC drone. The flight, led by the University of Maryland UAS Test Site at St. Mary’s County, commenced at 1:00 am. The vehicle traveled 2.6 miles and flew for approximately 10 minutes. The human kidney was successfully delivered to University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) and was scheduled to be used for a transplant surgery at 5:00 am.”

Cohn reports that Dr. Joseph Scalea, a UMMMC transplant surgeon, was frustrated by the slowness and costs of relying on commercial flights and charters.  Researching “faster means,” he found drones offered possibilities.

At a news conference, Scalea explained, “This new technology has the potential to help widen the donor organ pool and access to transplantation.  Delivering an organ from a donor to a patient is a sacred duty with many moving parts. It is critical that we find ways of doing this better.”

Aero-News explains the urgency: “Organ transplants have a limited window of cold ischemia time (CIT) in which an organ can be chilled and then have blood supply restored. As of January 2019, almost 114,000 individuals were on the national transplant waiting list and every day approximately 80 people receive organ transplants, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing – the nonprofit that manages the transplant system. For sensitive medical deliveries, reducing the amount of travel time in urban settings, as well as vibration during travel can help lead to better outcomes.”

UMMMC personnel gather around drone that would deliver a world first

Cohn’s story highlights the need for timely and safe delivery.  She reports that a human heart was left on a [airliner] and when retrieved, fortunately had valves still usable.

The Sacramento Bee reported, “More than an hour into the connecting flight to Dallas, the pilot turned around, leading to a five-hour delay for passengers.

“In a statement, [the airline] said, “the shipment was delivered to its destination within the window of allotted time by our cargo customer. Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our customers and the safe delivery of the precious cargo we transport every day.”

“Valve tissue has a 48-hour window of viability. Amazingly, the heart made it in time to save the life of its intended recipient.”  Protocols and procedures to prevent this type of admittedly rare slip-up will probably be a high priority for future organ deliveries.

AiRXOS, a unit of GE Aviation that participated in the demonstration reported, that the organ was flown 2.6 miles in 10 minutes across Baltimore from St. Agnes Hospital to the Maryland hospital downtown in the early morning for the transplant.   Such a trip takes 15-20 minutes by car depending on traffic.

Seeing other countries with transportation infrastructure gaps that manage to deliver blood, retrieve tests and samples, and deliver life-saving drugs and equipment over impassable terrain should give us hope.  We can hope that drones will make it possible to speed necessary medical treatments and transplants while avoiding the gridlock of our extremely well-developed infrastructure.

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Honda’s Fluoride Battery

Can the stuff that protects your teeth find happiness storing electrical energy?  Researchers are brushing up on their chemistry to produce a fluoride battery – almost the total opposite of a lithium battery.  Three years ago, The Journal of Fluorine Chemistry quibbled, “Only a handful of publications exist on the topic of fluoride ion batteries (FIBs). These are electrochemical cells in which a negative anion—fluoride—enables charge transport. In this review, we will report, for the first time, an extensive theoretical screening of FIBs as well as an analysis of the safety and toxicity of electrochemical couples of such batteries.”   It continued with an exploration of high-temperature (150° C, or 302° F) and room-temperature examples of fluoride cells and ended with comparisons of seven different cathode and nine different anode materials “to further illustrate the potential and issues of such battery systems.”

Now, Honda, researchers from the California Institute of Technology (CalTech), NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a scientist now at Purdue are finding new ways to make Fluoride live up to its promise.  Researchers hope to achieve a more powerful storage device which is more environmentally friendly, Honda reports, “The collective team of scientists co-authored a new paper on the topic that was published in Science and is available here.

The abstract for their paper explains: “Fluoride ion batteries are potential ‘next-generation’ electrochemical storage devices that offer high energy density. At present, such batteries are limited to operation at high temperatures because suitable fluoride ion–conducting electrolytes are known only in the solid state. We report a liquid fluoride ion–conducting electrolyte with high ionic conductivity, wide operating voltage, and robust chemical stability based on dry tetraalkylammonium fluoride salts in ether solvents. Pairing this liquid electrolyte with a copper–lanthanum trifluoride (Cu@LaF3) core-shell cathode, we demonstrate reversible fluorination and defluorination reactions in a fluoride ion electrochemical cell cycled at room temperature. Fluoride ion–mediated electrochemistry offers a pathway toward developing capacities beyond that of lithium ion technology.”

Dr. Christopher Brooks, Chief Scientist, Honda Research Institute, and a co-author of the paper notes, “Fluoride-ion batteries offer a promising new battery chemistry with up to ten times more energy density than currently available Lithium batteries.  Unlike Li-ion batteries, FIBs do not pose a safety risk due to overheating, and obtaining the source materials for FIBs creates considerably less environmental impact than the extraction process for lithium and cobalt.”

Yin and Yang, Positive and Negative

Brett Savoie, formerly with the team at Honda et al., has risen from post-doc student to assistant professor at Purdue University, where he has added an important component to making the fluoride battery a reality.  In a true yin and yang opposition, lithium batteries can be made safer by using a solid-state electrolyte in their composition, while fluoride batteries can be made to work at room temperature with safety by liquefying their electrolyte.

The same fluoride that helps prevent tooth cavities will soon challenge its electrical counterpart on the periodic table, lithium, for better batteries, thanks to improvements that advance the technology. (Purdue University image/Brett Savoie)

Savoie explains the potential superiority of fluoride batteries.   “Fluoride-based battery electrodes can store more ions per site than typical lithium-ion electrodes, which means that this technology has the capability to be much more energy dense.”

The Purdue press release about Savoie’s liquefying material explains that lithium and fluoride share another yin-and-yang relationship: “lithium is the most electropositive element on the Periodic Table, meaning that it likes to lose electrons, while fluoride is the most electronegative element, only wanting to acquire electrons. Giving lithium electrons it doesn’t want stores energy, while taking electrons away from fluoride also stores energy.”

Savoie helped create BTFE, Bis (2,2,2-Trifluorethyl) ether, an electrolyte co-solvent that enables fluoride ions to dissolve better into a liquid electrolyte.  This will help fluoride batteries to perform well at room temperatures.

Next steps include making the battery reliable at high voltages and keeping the cathodes and anodes from dissolving in the electrolyte.  Researchers are working on stabilizing the copper electrodes.

The technology could then move toward unseating lithium, a cation-based battery, as the first high-performing, anion-based rechargeable battery.

Battery testing is underway. The work was supported by the Resnick Sustainability Institute and the Molecular Materials Research Center, both at Caltech, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy Office of Science and the Honda Research Institute.

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Equator P2 Flies Out of Ground Effect

Following a decade of development, Tomas Broedreskift’s Equator P2 Excursion prototype made its first flights out of ground effect, a significant step in flight testing. It flew in ground effect just above the runway on March 29, 2018.  This helped verify the center of gravity and enabled further tests under audit by the Norwegian Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA), which gave its release for full test at the end of February.  In a brief email, Brodreskift told your editor, “After 8 years in development it was about time!”

Two flights on March 29 and March 31, 2019 gave the team the assurance that all systems are “go” for further testing. Everything, according to test pilot Eskil Amdal, was more than acceptable. He is one of the most experienced test pilots in Norway, flying everything from WWII aircraft to his current mount, an F-35. Flights took place at at Eggemoen Technology Park in Norway..

A serial hybrid, the Equator takes its power from a water-cooled ENGIRO G60 Electric generator that produces 60 kilowatts and receives its motive force from. a Wankel Super Tec (WST) KKM 352 multi-Diesel fuel engine.  The pair weighs 25 and 45 kilograms (55 and 99 pounds) respectively.  This keeps the six kilowatt-hour Kokam battery pack charged that in turn drives the tail-mounted motor with its custom DUC propeller.

That’s the final configuration. For test flights so far, the motor on the tail receives voltage from an 18 kWh battery pack that weighs 100 kilograms (220 pounds). It is the only power on the craft to simplify initial flight testing. The complete power system was thoroughly tested, though, before the airplane’s debut at Friedrichshafen in 2017.

According to Equator, the “Main aim[s] for the first tests were to establish positive control and test basic static, and dynamic stability of the aircraft. The flights lasted about 10 minutes, and were done on pure electric power. From the standpoint of a first flight of a new airframe and propulsion system the flight was a great success. However as expected several smaller items will be improved before further testing.” “Further testing” will include water tests.

As you will note in the second video, most of the plane’s construction was done in a small garage, small enough to necessitate parking the fuselage diagonally. With limited space and resources, Tomas, his family members and his team had to demonstrate enormous courage and drive to finally receive proper funding and support. We can only hope for their continued success and the production of a truly revolutionary airplane.

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Bye eFlyer Sales Near 300

Diane Simard, Director and Senior Vice President at Bye Aerospace, keeps your editor updated on happenings at the maker of what were SunFlyers, and which are now eFlyers.  The rebranding makes sense.   In their press release for the eFlight Expo in Friedrichshafen, Germany on April 11, the company included this explanation.  “George E. Bye, Founder and CEO of Bye Aerospace, said eFlyer more accurately represents the aircraft’s high-tech all-electric propulsion system. ‘We originally thought solar cells would be standard on the airplane’s wings,’ Bye said. ‘However, with eFlyer’s primary markets being flight training and air taxi services, it makes more sense to make the price of the airplane as reasonable as possible.’”

Siemens powered eFlyer departs runway on one of many flights as Bye Aerospace prepares for series production

Bye Aerospace’s primary market is growing, with orders for 60 eFlyers from OSM Aviation , a training resource for many of the world’s airlines.  This brings the total of eFlyers to almost 300, achieved despite some roadblocks.  In an email to your editor, Bye explained, “In an April 11 email, George Bye confirmed the sales figures.  “ You’re correct. Just under 300 total now.  The schedule for certification and deliveries is two years.  We had some delays with the government shutdown, and some certification organization with our team and our partners.  But everyone has pulled together nicely now.”

Bye Aerospace explains, “The eFlyer family of aircraft, including the 2-seat eFlyer 2 and the 4-seat eFlyer 4, aims to be the first FAA-certified, practical, all-electric airplanes to serve the flight training and general aviation markets. Siemens will provide electric propulsion systems for the eFlyer 2 airplane—the 57 lb.-SP70D motor with a 90kW peak rating (120 HP), and a continuous power setting of up to 70kW (94 HP).”

SP70D motor by Siemens might become as commonplace on electric aircraft as Continentals and Lycomings are on conventional aircraft

OSMAviation’s CEO, Espen Heiby says, “We’re proud to take the lead in the future of green aviation.  This is the largest order for commercial electric planes to date.

Noting the environmental impact of his firm’s choice, he adds,“It’s important that the airline industry steps up to the challenge of developing more environment- friendly transport. At OSM Aviation, we’re committed to pursuing a socially responsible and sustainable business.”

Bjørn Granviken, CEO of the OSM Aviation Academy, is enthusiastic about the opportunities offered by the new technology.  “We’re training the next generation of pilots, and are determined to attract the best candidates. We offer a forward-looking education which they can be proud to take part in. This order for 60 all-electric aircraft is a key step in that respect.”

The Norwegian and Swedish organization is establishing training programs in America, where the eFlyer will compete with programs being created by Pipistrel with is Alpha Electro.  Both craft offer zero emissions and low noise levels, a boon to airports and their neighborhoods.

Eric-Lithun-of-ELFLY (left), Norwegian partner to George-Bye (right). “Bye Aerospace has a strong team, and I think they will be the first to mass produce a certified FAR 23 and EASA 23 all-electric airplane,” said Lithun, CEO of Elfly AS. “This is the game changer of aviation for small airplanes. The Bye Aerospace eFlyer will be the Tesla of the general aviation industry.”

“Bye Aerospace has a strong team, and I think they will be the first to mass produce a certified FAR 23 and EASA 23 all-electric airplane,” said Eric Lithun, CEO of Elfly AS. “This is the game changer of aviation for small airplanes. The Bye Aerospace eFlyer will be the Tesla of the general aviation industry.”

Others have been attracted to the two-seat trainer, including Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology, Aero.Electro in Australia, and The Aero Touring Club de France (ATCF).   As the merits of these aircraft become more apparent to growing numbers of pilots, we may see a resurgence in flight training for the civilian market.

Talk about enthusiastic! These two new customers do a great sales pitch for electric vehicles in general.

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Go Fly’s Phase II Winners

One complaint frequently heard is that aviation doesn’t necessarily encourage participation by women, despite historical examples from Harriet Quimby to Jeanna Yeager.   GoFly is a competition thought up by Gwen Lighter, a lawyer with degrees from Brown (summa cum laude) and Harvard (cum laude) Universities. It has a $2 million prize package backed by Boeing and others.  Ms. Lighter describes her brainchild as follows: “The $2 million GoFly competition encourages mad scientists and daredevils to come as close as possible to Star Wars’s light cycles, James Bond’s jetpack, Marty McFly’s hoverboard, or any other flying dream.”

Five Phase 2 winners exemplify the open rule-book approach around which the contest is organized.  Lighter explained it two years ago in an NPR interview.  “What the device looks like and how it works is up to the innovators.  We do not mandate that it’s something you get into like a car, or something that you strap on your back, or something that you stand on. We don’t want to say that there is any right way of doing it, since that only limits the possibilities.”

The five Phase II winners receive $50,000 each to enable further development of their machines and to prepare them for the Phase III flyoff late this year.  The five come from Russia and Latvia (one team), The Netherlands, Texas, Florida, and California.  Configurations are based on the contest ideas of compactness, quietness, and the ability to land and take off in a constrained area and safely carry an individual 20 miles.

The Teams and Their Flying Machines

Team Aeroxo

Team Aeroxo’s Russian and Latvian members have created what they call an ERA Aviabike, although it’s hard to see the “bike” part other than in the probably uncomfortable seating position.  Aviabike might be the most complex of the entries, too, with 16 pivoting ducted fans providing vertical takeoffs and landing and relatively high-speed forward flight.

Team DragonAir

DragonAir benefits from a head start it got over the competition.  Mariah Cain, the only female captain on the five finalist teams, had experience on those water-powered hoverboards one sees on TV commercials and stunt shows.

According to FastCompany, “She also discovered Jeff Elkins, an engineer and inventor building hydroflight gear. ‘We became good friends,’ says Cain, ‘and then he realized I was the perfect size to fly his pet project, which is the AirBoard.’ It maneuvers similarly to a hydroflight pack. Sensors that measure a pilot’s movements allow them to simply lean in the direction they want to go.”  Ray Brandes is the third member of the small team.  Still, one hopes that Mariah’s feet are securely fastened to the platform.

Team Silverwing

Team Silverwing Personal Flight’ S1 pivots on its axis, making a 90-degree transition from vertical takeoff and landing orientation to horizontal cruise flight.  The team describes it as able to, “take off vertically carrying a person, fly for 30 minutes, and land in an area the size of a parking space.”

The SI is a canard-wing configuration around a person in motorcycle-like orientation powered by two electric motors with ducted rotors. The aircraft makes a 90-degree transition from vertical take-off to horizontal cruise flight and the pilot goes from vertical to prone during the transition..

Team Harmony

The Texas A&M Harmony team has demonstrated a large-scale version of its Aria, a “high-TRL [Technology Readiness Level] compact rotorcraft designed to minimize noise and maximize efficiency, safety, reliability, and flight experience.”  The pilot remains upright throughout the flight, and the large, counter-rotating propeller should achieve the goal of being relatively quiet.

Team Trek Aerospace

Trek Aerospace, Inc.’s| FlyKart2 is a more sophisticated version of the prototype FlyKart built in 2017 by Robert Bulaga and Joshua Portlock – in about one week.

Trek Aerospace specializes in what they call shrouded propellers and is designed to be inexpensive to build, own, and operate.  They’ve obviously taken a great deal of consideration to shield the pilot from the propellers, a great safety consideration.

FlyKart 2 is more sophisticated derivation of FlyKart 1 configuration with emphasis on pilot protection

We wish the best of luck to all the competitors.  They’ve certainly enlivened interest in personal flight.

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