GoFly Prize Will Have a Sequel

A well-produced video looking like a Christopher Nolan trailer for an upcoming Batman film — Silverwing’s preview of its coming attraction wraps us in a cocoon-like cockpit with a heads-up display to envy.  Silverwing’s S1 was one of 20 machines to show up at Moffett Field in Mountain View, California for the GoFly Prize flyoff.

As Beth Stanton reported in the May issue of Sport Aviation, the gathering represented the best of 854 teams from 103 countries who made it through the first phase of the competition over two years ago.  The attrition rate may seem high unless one considers the difficulty level posed by the contest’s constraints.

teTra, winner of the Pratt & Whitney Disruptor Award.  The $100k should help further development

Beth’s article, “On the Edge of Possibility,” draws its title from a statement by Malcolm Foster, a GoFly judge and mentor, and director of special projects at GKN Aerospace.  He explained the challenge involved: “The eight-and-a-half-foot diameter with current battery technology was right on the edge of possibility.”  He referred to the size limit for the single-person-carrying vehicle that rise from and land within a 30-foot diameter circle with imaginary walls 12-feet high.

Beth expanded on the technical aspects  involved.  “A basic principle for hovering vehicles is to get disk loading as low as possible with a rotor that is as large as possible. Competition constraints limited the overall vehicle dimensions to eight and a half feet. It proved extraordinarily challenging to create a design using smaller rotors that would then require larger batteries to power it.”

Despite that, 20 teams from all over the world achieved at least partial success and showed up.  They came with complete vehicles, partially-complete craft, and some scale representations of what they hoped to achieve.  Foster added,  “It’s an extraordinarily difficult thing to do. There are very few professional designers who could actually come up with something successful within that envelope.”  

Covering the two days at Moffett Field, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association interviewed Gwen Lighter, CEO and co-founder of GoFly,  Her dynamic personality, coupled with persuasive techniques learned at Harvard Law School, probably helped her talk Boeing into helping bankroll this singular enterprise.

One might be forgiven for not being able to recognize the aerodynamic qualities of many of these creations.  Remember that each was designed to meet a unique set of criteria.  Although none met with visible success this year, next year’s sequel may usher in a new era of personal, if quirky, flight.  Perhaps the ride will be as smooth as that of the Silverwing video.

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Pyka: Electric, Autonomous, and Capable

“The Autonomous Airplane of the Future”

Conceived in Oakland and Palo Alto, California but flying in New Zealand, Pyka’s fixed-wing electric aircraft represents a new approach in its design and application.  Its makers say, “We’re building the autonomous electric airplanes of the future,” and its complement of innovative on-board electronics certainly seems to bear that out.

eVTOL News reports Pyka co-founder and CEO Michael Norcia interned with Joby Aviation and moved on to spend two years as a power systems engineer with Wisk.  Having experienced the difficulties with vertical lift, “…when Norcia and his co-founders — Chuma Ogunwole, Kyle Moore, and Nathan White — struck out on their own three years ago, they decided to take a more practical approach: sidestepping the technical challenges specific to VTOL (Vertical Take Off and Landing) aircraft with an STOL (Short Take Off and Landing) design, and the regulatory hurdles by seeking out unmanned applications to serve as stepping stones to future passenger-carrying operations.”

Pyka explored several configurations before deciding on the current tri-motor arrangement

Having completed the prestigious Y combinator startup accelerator, the company quickly raised a total of $11M in funding (led by the VC-firm Prime Movers Lab), and the partners are now embarked on creating a conventional configuration with an unconventional amalgam of attributes.  TechCrunch explained the business plan that would lead from agricultural work to personal flight.  

Pyka’s tri-motor craft now flying in New Zealand

“ Pyka wants to make ‘flying cars’ a reality with its auto-piloting single-person planes. The company has already built a 600 lb plane that flies itself, [and] can take off and land in 90 feet. But since regulators want to see tons of testing before allowing humans aboard, Pyka has developed a placeholder business doing crop dusting in New Zealand. That helps it earn $600 per hour while logging the hours necessary to prepare for the human transportation market. Crop dusting alone is a $1.5 billion business in the US. But with employees from Zee airplanes and Google’s Waymo, Pyka aims to become a first-mover in self-flying personal planes.”

Several versions appear to have been built, and a tri-motor drone is flying around farms down under.  Earlier configurations had up to six under-wing motors, while the designers seem to have settled on a motor under each wing with one atop the vertical fin, tri-motor approach.  Each motor produces eight kilowatts (10.7 horsepower), enough for the 600-pound craft to lift off in 300 feet. 

For identification, we’ll call the craft shown in this video the ultralight version.  Its 90-kilogram (200-pound) payload allows spraying the very farm fields it uses as its airports.  

About the size of a Piper Cub, the projected version will be a sleek glider-like craft able to lift a 625-pound payload, more than the empty weight of the plane.  It will have three 20-kW (26.8-hp) motors that will enable 150-foot takeoff tuns. at a dispersal rate of five gallons per acre, Pyka could disperse its roughly 78 gallons of agricultural spray in around eight minutes. With a 40-minute battery limit, that would result in 5 fills per battery swap.”

An Array of Electronics

Pyka’s flight computer “architecture enables the computer to simultaneously communicate with over 30 actuators and sensors while executing complex path planning algorithms.”

architecture enables the computer to simultaneously communicate with over 30 actuators and sensors while executing complex path planning algorithms.

Pyka seems as much about software as aerodynamics.  Its FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) can be programmed by an intended owner, “a very successful farmer [who is] very interested in technology.”  These farmers will gain assistance from a company programmer in familiarizing Pyka with the contours of their farms.  Redundant systems ensure  simultaneous communication, “with over 30 actuators and sensors while executing complex path planning algorithms.”

Pyka’s software engineers will work with farmers to ensure effective spray dispersal and safe routes around the farm

Pyka’s FPGA coordinates flight and product application with company-designed systems, including a brushless direct current (BLDC) motor controller, a proprietary, highly efficient spray system, and a tightly-managed set of redundant, high energy density battery packs.  Such integration enables rapid, precise spray dispersal.

Pyka’s stated goal is to be the largest operator of large autonomous electric aircraft in the coming decade. It would seem the startup has successfully innovated across the entire automation stack – hardware and software – to meet the rigorous demands of industrial farm work and AV safety. As they currently fly the world’s only commercially-approved autonomous electric aircraft on farms in New Zealand, your editor thinks farmers in the States would be interested in keeping Pyka on their radar.  In response to our query, the company stated they do have U.S. regulatory approval pending.

Pyka says the software and flight data they already generate positions them as a leader in autonomous aerial mobility, and they could potentially foreseeably enable a new level of advancement toward autonomous cargo and passenger flights in the future.

On Your Editor’s Wish List

Without a pilot, Pyka carries a significant liquid payload – one which could also be two passengers out for a pilot-optional joyride.  This type of craft, able to operate even from farm fields, might make rooftop airports and pocket airparks new centers of recreational flying.

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Pipistrel’s Plans Evolve in Exciting Ways

In its 30th year, Pipistrel is making many changes, from a crisp new logo to new emphases and technologies.  Its 801, intended for Uber’s Urban Air Mobility program, will segue into a cargo version and return later after the firm gains experience with deliveries.  Meanwhile, Pipistrel will concentrate on developing a 19-seat, 300-mile range regional airliner while growing its global outreach for personal aircraft.  Pipistrel is evolving and flourishing in exciting new ways.

From Hang Gliders to Global Reach

Ivo Boscarol, founder, owner and president of Pipistrel companies, CEO of Pipistrel d.o.o. Shares a look at his firm’s three-decade history and plans for the near future.

Pipistrel reports in its newsletter, “The information that Pipistrel is running a program developing a large cargo-delivery hybrid-electric UAV in-house is accurate. For this program, we will be communicating about progress on a separate occasion, when we are ready to unveil the exact specifications, purpose and capability.”  It will at the same time hold back on development of the passenger-carrying version, the 801. 

Tine Tomažič, Director of Research and Development at Pipistrel, gave a detailed overview of the 801 at last year’s Uber Elevate Summit.

While the 801 is on hold, the cargo version will feature tandem wings but the same motor layout.

MAHEPA

What if we add advanced, low- or zero-emission power systems to Pipistrel’s advanced aerodynamic designs?

MAHEPA’s website explains the European Union project’s mission. “The Modular Approach To Hybrid-Electric Propulsion Architecture (MAHEPA Project) Is developing the enabling propulsion technology for future small and regional passenger airplanes, capable of exploiting the existing small local airports to provide micro-feeder service to larger hubs and eliminating gaseous emission impact on surrounding communities.”

Feeder liners to speed passengers to major airline hubs could avoid gridlock and take passengers directly to their point of departure for a longer flight.  Expedited security checks at smaller airports could eliminate the frustration of long lines at the big hubs.  Feeder liners would shave hours from ground travel and reduce pollution by only emitting water vapor from their fuel cells.  Additionally, “ Refueling these aircraft can be completed in as little as five minutes, there is no engine warm up or any of the normal maintenance tasks required in conventional aircraft.   What’s not to like?  Pipistrel, with Tine Tomazic’s designs, provides two aircraft on which to test the modular approach, the HY-4 and the Panthera.  

Pipistrel are currently in the final stages of testing a dual hydrogen fuel cell propulsion system for another project. Despite the challenges that come with Covid-19 Pipistrel is still developing and cooperating on many new projects.

Pipistrel’s 19-seat, 300-mile range H2-powered feeder liner

“Pipistrel is engaged in a development project for a 19-seat hybrid-electric aircraft as part of the Unifier19 project with distinguished academic partners. At the moment, no 3rd party commercial entities or companies are involved. In parallel, MAHEPA – a project led by Pipistrel, is creating important technological foundations for future developments. In the course of project Mahepa our partners have developed and tested exciting next-level powertrain components, including best-in-class electric powertrains and hydrogen-fuel cell propulsion systems. We are looking forward to flight demonstrations in 2020.”

HY-4 now sports four=blade propeller, more powerful fuel-cell driven motor

A new system integrated into the Hy4 aircraft is capable of continuous power output of 52 kW and peak power of 120 kW.

According to Pipistrel, “This will be the most powerful fuel-cell system ever used to power a flying aircraft and it will be flying on the NASA winning G4 Pipistrel airframe as the test bed. These propulsion systems will eventually power small 19-seat regional commuter aircraft.

“Imagine crossing the Atlantic on $9 of Hydrogen!“ (Your editor asked about that astounding low cost of hydrogen, and received a reply that H2 generation could use low-cost electricity from off-peak night-time operation of coastal wind turbines.)

Dropping Eggs from 300 Feet

Finally, at a somewhat less technical but equally innovative juncture, Pipistrel has converted an Alpha Electro to a Box Dropper for a humanitarian relief organization.  That’s quite literally its mission, dropping 20-kilogram (44-pound) boxes of relief supplies from 300 feet.  The specially-designed cartons even keep eggs from cracking.

Aaaa

A big thank you to Michael Coates of Pipistrel USA for this font of information.

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VoltAero Has Ambitious Plans

VoltAero is a small French company that might succeed in electric flight where bigger firms have failed.  Its hybrid-electric system marks an innovative path to quiet flight.

Airbus ventured into electric aviation with a four-motor conversion of the Colomban cri-Cri in 2010 and a clean-sheet craft, the E-Fan, a sleek, essentially ducted fan two-seater in 2015.  Initially big plans for production of two and four seat variants bloomed – then withered.  Airbus dropped plans for the personal electric airplane market and instead concentrated on at least three versions of Urban Air Mobility devices and a hybrid-electric demonstrator based on a BAE 146 airliner.  This last project, the E-Fan X, was canceled recently. 

Jean Botti was Chief Technology Officer for Airbus, and Didier Esteyne a test pilot for the Cri-Cri and E-Fan.  Botti is now CEO of VoltAero: Esteyne its Technical Officer.  VoltAero has ambitious plans for its hybrid electric future, and management experience to pull them off.

E-Fan following first flight. Didier Esteyne stands next to craft while Jean Botti stands nearest wingtip

Flying VoltAero’s unique hybrid power system in a modified Cessna 337 “Skymaster,” VoltAero’s test bed is similar to Ampaire’s EEL, also testing with a modified 337 push-pull twin.  While the Ampaire retains its front engine, VoltAire’s Cassto 1 replaces the engine with a streamlined fairing containing a large battery pack.  Its rear power module comprises a Nissan six-cylinder engine driving alternators that charge the batteries to power the three large motors turning the pusher propeller and  two ENGINeUS 45 electric motors – one on the nose of each tailboom.

The boom-mounted Safran units produce 45 kilowatts continuously and 70 kW for short bursts of power.

Taxiing using wheel motors and taking off with only electrically-driven propellers provides quiet, good neighbor operation.  Jean Botti explained operation and advantages at the Farnborough Air Show last year.

What’s Next? 

The Cassio 2, a sleek, three surface design, will amplify the performance and carrying capacity of the Cassio 1.  New Atlas reports: “VoltAero ultimately plans on manufacturing 4-, 6- and 9-seat versions of the Cassio. Company president Jeffrey Lenorovitz tells us that the plane should have a top speed of 200 knots (370 km/h or 230 mph) and a flight endurance of at least 3.5 hours. Deliveries are expected to take place between 2021 and 2022.”

Cassio 2 will be a three-surface airplane of varied capacities

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Making and Recycling LIBs Cleaner, Safer

What if we could make the process of making  LIBs (Lithium Ion Batteries) a lot safer, their use less hazardous, and their recycling a low-risk enterprise?  Virginia Tech researchers think they have positive answers to all three questions.

By substituting water for organic solvents normally used in making LIB electrodes, researchers at Virginia Tech (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University), “…found that the electrodes fabricated via water-based processing demonstrate comparable rate performance and cycle life to the ones from conventional solvent based processing.”  Beyond that, in a seeming bit of alchemy, using water-based processing with a water-soluble binder, “…enabled recovering the cathode compound from spent electrodes using water, which could be successfully regenerated to deliver comparable electrochemical performance to the original, pristine electrode.”

“Humongous” Amount of NMP

Virginia Tech’s manufacturing flow chart shows efficient use of recycled material

N-methyl-2- pyrrolidone (NMP), used as a solvent in making LIB electrodes, is expensive and harmful to reproductive functions.  It was added to the European Commission’s restricted list in 2018.  Despite those concerns, one plant alone uses 4.1 million kilograms per year just for depositing cathode layers for 100,000 packs per year of 60 kilowatt, 10 kilowatt-hour plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV) batteries.  According to Green Car Congress, the worldwide need to support 400 gigawatt-hours of battery production is “humongous,” a phrase not often used in scientific literature.

Savings From Water-based Processes

Processes with NMP are costly, with the electrode drying and recovery of NMP solvent accounting for 47 percent of the total process energy in LIB manufacturing.  Replacing NMP with water would reduce that cost by one quarter.  Dry room facilities that support slurry mixing and casting operations for moisture and temperature control consume another 29 percent of total energy.

Zheng Li and his Virginia Tech team concluded, “Excellent electrochemical performance was achieved from the water-based processed electrodes used in this work and comparable performance was obtained from the recycled materials. This methodology provides a green, sustainable process for LIB manufacturing and recycling if some underlying challenges can be resolved.”

Their results are published in the journal iScience in an article titled, “Water-Based Electrode Manufacturing and Direct Recycling of Lithium-Ion Battery Electrodes—A Green and Sustainable Manufacturing System.” 

Reducing Hazards in Recycling

Despite large number of  LIBs available at end of life, few are recycled, losing fortunes in desirable materials

Their work might make recycling lithium batteries easier, too.  Partly because LIBs can flare up when damaged, and their electrolytes can spread across storage areas, space shared with other flammable materials such as paper or cardboard can be a potential inferno.

One operator termed LIBs “an existential threat” to the recycling industry.  Hilary Gans of the South Bay Waste Management Authority explains the agency runs a MRF (materials recycling facility) that has experienced two fires per month caused by LI batteries. An LI battery-sparked fire at the agency’s Shoreline Environmental Center MRF cost $8.5 million in 2016. 

Gans explained in a webinar, “They are bombs, they get crushed by the equipment, they get tangled up in the rolling stock and then tangled up in the MRF. And in a house of paper, you don’t want fires.” 

“They are bombs, they get crushed by the equipment, they get tangled up in the rolling stock and then tangled up in the MRF,” Gans said in the October webinar by The Recycling Partnership. “And in a house of paper, you don’t want fires.” 

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Drones Meeting the Corona Virus Challenge

“Ramadan Mubarak, Dean!

“As a kid who grew up in the ’80s, I thought by 2020 we’d have flying cars and a clean planet, and yet here we are grappling with a global pandemic and much uncertainty in these very strange times.”

This greeting from Hani Almadhoun, Director of Philanthropy for  the the United Nations Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. UNRWA USA, reminds us of our common humanity and spirituality while lamenting the fact that we don’t yet have those long-promised flying cars or at least a well-looked-after planet. Like the virus, the unfulfilled dream of a “flying car” ssems universal.

Faced with an imperfect reality, fixed- and rotary-wing drones are showing their worth in fighting the Corona virus (COVID-19) virus and other diseases worldwide. We will sample from A (Alphabet) to Z (Zipline) performing life-saving tasks in sometimes surprising ways.

Alphabet

The Verge reports, “Alphabet’s nascent drone delivery service is booming.

“Alphabet’s drone delivery company Wing has seen a ‘significant’ increase in demand in recent weeks as people adhere to social distancing rules during the COVID-19 pandemic. Business Insider reports that in the last two weeks the company’s drones have made over 1,000 deliveries, while Bloomberg reports a doubling of deliveries in the US and Australia.”

Social distancing comes from on high, with Wing’s machines lowering their medicines or mochas to a ground target on a long tether. Cruising at 65 mph, the little drones deliver quickly.

The Verge adds, “Wing is currently the only service offering drone deliveries to the general public in North America, although Amazon is also working to launch its own Prime Air service.”

EHang

“(Guangzhou, February 25, 2020) EHang Holdings Limited (Nasdaq: EH) (‘EHang’ or the ‘Company‘), the world’s leading autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV) technology platform company, announced new progress in implementing real-world Urban Air Mobility (UAM) applications for medical emergency transport uses to combat the coronavirus outbreak in China.”

EHang’s 216, “the two-seat passenger-grade AAV,” flew medical supplies four kilometers (2.48 miles)from Hezhou Square to the Hezhou People’s Hospital, landing on a 25-story rooftopl. Unmanned flight is “critical in current epidemic situation,” and the 216’s capacity allows bringing along a medic — represented by Ehang’s Chief Strategy Officer, Edward Xu, who is not a pilot and enjoys his tea along the way.

EHang reports, “The 216 AAV automatically returned after the delivery. The 8-kilometer round-trip flight operation was unmanned .”

Matternet

Matternet started as a “last milea” delivery service for roadless parts of Africa and displayed at the Green Flight Challenge Expo in 2011. Its operations have expanded since then and it’s become the first FAA-approved drone airline, according to the organization.

Its Part 135 Standard certification allows UPS and Matternet to rapidly scale drone delivery for hospital operations in the U.S. The Mountain View, California-based drone maker sees this as a breakthrough for its machines. CEO Andreas Raptopoulos comments, “We founded Matternet with the belief that we must create a new layer of transportation, using networks of drones for delivering urgent items on-demand at a fraction of the time, cost and cological footprint of any other transportation method.”

According to Matternet, “The… M2 system is capable of transporting packages of up to 5 lbs over distances of up to 12.5 miles in operations beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) and over people.

TU Delft’s Flying Defibrillator

Alec Momont, a graduate student at Delft University of Technology (TU Delft), has designed a drone that provides a professional response to heart attacks within a single minute. This could be great news for the million Europeans who suffer cardiac arrest every year. Saving nine minutes over the average response time for ground-bound ambulances could increase the survival rate to 80-percent – a huge boost over the current eight-percent rate.

In a press release, Momont explained, “It is essential that the right medical care is provided within the first few minutes of a cardiac arrest. If we can get to an emergency scene faster we can save many lives and facilitate the recovery of many patients. This especially applies to emergencies such as heart failure, drownings, traumas and respiratory problems, and it has become possible because life-saving technologies, such as a defibrillator, can now be designed small enough to be transported by a drone.”

Volocopter

The German firm, already demonstrating its 18-rotor machines in Germany, Dubai, and Singapore, has been staging mock rescues by delivering medical equipment and personnel to “accident” scenes in two German locations.

Part of an ADAC Luftrettung  (air rescue) feasibility study, these simulations demonstrate their mission of transporting doctors to patients as quickly as possible.

“Covering everything from the alert at the ADAC Luftrettung HEMS base to the emergency treatment of the patient on the scene, a real-life operation was staged. Publication of the findings of the research project is scheduled for next year. From then on, the theoretical and practical experiences gained could be applied in a real-life pilot project.”
ADAC Luftrettung , a charitable organization, becomes the first air rescue organisation in the world to test a manned multicopter in aeromedical missions.

Scientific support for the project comes from thecwith whom ADAC air rescue has already cooperated in research and development.

Do It Yourself in Dubai

Running a scenario similar to that of Volocopter’s, but using a more self-suffient approach, this United Arab Emirates drone flies first aid to the downed cyclist, but its handlers apparently assume if he can patch a tire, he can patch himself. There is little to identify the company involved in the video.

WingCopter

WingCopter, another German company, combines multi-rotor vertical lift with high-speed horizontal flight, and depending on payload, hits speeds of up to 150 mph, a Guinness record. WingCopter can carry a 3.5 kilogram payload in winds up to 44 mph.

WingCopter’s web site reports, “On the South Sea island of Vanuatu, the start-up, on behalf of the local Ministry of Health and supported by UNICEF, successfully set up an on-demand vaccines supply, delivering the urgently needed serums within minutes to multiple different health centers.”

Now, with Part 135 certification and a partnership with United Parcel Service Fast Forward (UPSFF), WingCopter is on its way to flying parcels, medical goods, and small packages country-wide. Speedy delivery of samples, prescriptions and medical devices can save lives.

Zipline

Zipline, another California-born enterprise, has grown to serve medical delivery needs in a growing number of countries, flying over 36,000 missions in the last few years.

Zipline has a specific response to the Coronavirus rmergency. “Zipline is helping our public, private, and philanthropic partners around the world develop and execute national-scale responses to COVID-19. Zipline drone delivery complements truck delivery for vaccines, medicines, and supplies — helping to keep people at home and manage scarce supplies for health workers.

“As new treatments and vaccines become available in the next 18-24 months, they will continue to be in scarce supply amid growing global demand. Zipline’s medical drone delivery service could help make sure distribution is targeted in real-time, at national-scale, to the people and populations that need it most, helping to save lives and prevent further outbreaks.”

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Pipistrel: Generosity Amid Chaos

Taja Boscarol, co-founder and Public Relations Manager of Pipistrel hopes, “You are healthy in these challenging times,” and makes a great invitation to the world’s involuntarily shut-in pilots.

Pipistrel has decided to provide an open access to all online training materials during the current period of world-wide enforced isolation as a testament and dedication to safety through continuous training and learning. Pipistrel Academy Computer-Based Training Courses are now available free-of-charge to anybody, for three months.

“We hope this will motivate non-flying pilots as well as student pilots and flight instructors to stay connected to their passion and learn more every day.

“Anybody, whether student pilot, pilot, flight instructor or aviation enthusiast, flying clubs, flight schools can apply and join the online course free-of-charge for a period of 3 months, from April 2020 until end of June 2020. This unique offer is available worldwide to all, including to non-pilots who are interested in aviation.

For followers of electric aircraft development, knowing Pipistrel as a long-time proponent of green aviation makes this offer all the better. Pipistrel’s first entry into the electric aircraft market came with the Taurus Electro G2, a side-by-side self-launchng two-seater that offered comfort, great handling, and soaring capabilities. Tine Tomazic, R&D Manager,with scant time to prepare an entry for 2011’s NASA Green Flight Challenge Sponsored by Google, made the inspired choice to use two G2 fuselages separated by a broad center section which housed a 200-killowatt motor – at that time the largest electric motor to power an aircraft.

With four seats, the craft gained an advantage over the competition in the scoring for passenger miles per gallon equivalent energy use – a remarkable 403.2 PPMGe.

Pipistrel won several “economy runs” with its high-wing Sinus and Virus aircraft, from which they derived a a light, highly efficient trainer, the Alpha. That lightness and efficiency led to creation of an electric version, the Alpha Electro. At a reported $3.00 per hour charging cost and with reasonable maintenance costs, this airplane would allow low rates for training and improved profitability for flight schools.

A COVID-19 Hiatus

Alluring as the prospect of low-budget, clean flying is, we’re all going to have to be patient for what might be an extended time. Right now, we probably don’t want to be squeezed into a tight space with another (probably untested) human being even if it is to enjoy quiet flight.

Pipistrel to the Rescue

During the current almost worldwide “lock down” period, the free-of-charge online course will help to refresh and revise the theoretical knowledge required to fly and learn the specifics about modern Pipistrel aircraft series, including the Alpha Electro, the only electric trainer in serial production in the world. The online course gives detailed information and knowledge of different Pipistrel aircraft.

Pipistrel is offering completely free of charge the specially designed and developed Online Training course for;

  • the Alpha Trainer UL/LSA/BCAR
  • the Virus SW UL/LSA
  • the Virus SW121
  •  the Alpha Electro.

Normally the online course fee is 147.30€ ($160.00) for 14-days or €247.30 ($268.56) for Permanent subscription. Courses can be accessed from anywhere in the world, with your laptop, tablet or mobile phone.

Online courses available from today onward, completely free of charge, include:

  • Pipistrel ALPHA Electro, the only certified electric training aircraft in serial production anywhere in the world
  • Pipistrel ALPHA Trainer aircraft in UL/LSA/BCAR configurations
  • Pipistrel Virus SW and SWiS in UL/LSA configurations
  • Pipistrel Virus SW 121 model, EASA certified

To register and begin learning about Pipistrel aircraft and flying in general, please register for your online course at https://www.pipistrel-online.com/

Click “Create new account”, follow the registration instructions and select the online course you are interested in by using the Enrollment key: FlyPipistrel

Best Offer Yet

Taja concludes, “And as the best information is always at the end….

“Here it is:
“Anyone who successfully finishes an on-line training course will receive a voucher for a free demo flight in one of our aircraft at your closest Pipistrel distributor’s location all over the World, valid until the end of September 2020.

“We hope that this Pipistrel’s contribution to the global pilot community will help the pilots to keep safe, remain knowledgeable and invest their time in lockdown during the Covid-19 crisis in training, so that they can enjoy flying even more when the current restrictions are eased.”

During the lockdown, you can learn some new skills and be the first on your block or in your EAA chapter to hitch a ride in an electric airplane.  Use the time well.

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JabirWatt: PAI and DEP with David Ullman

Electric aircraft, especially in their early state of development, will require aerodynamically capable forms or extremely light structures, or both. That may account for the early adoption of sailplanes as test beds. These are graceful and high performance units, but not all that practical for hauling loads or for daily commuting. Other first attempts adapted ultralight, but not necessarily aerodynamically efficient structures to make electric flight possible. David Ullman makes use of two dynamic technologies, PAI  and DEP, to achieve performance with the potential for great practicality.

PAI and DEP

David, a professor emeritus in mechanical engineering, is also an enthusiastic pilot and inventor. His texts on the design process and decision making are best sellers. Recently, he’s been exploring the potential of Propulsion Airframe Interaction (PAI) and Distributed Electric Propulsion (DEP) by augmenting the power and lift of a conventional aircraft with Electric Ducted Fans (EDF).

A Creative Airport Community

If you are fortunate enough to visit the Independence, Oregon airport, you can see myriad examples of creativity and craftsmanship. On the road leading into the airport, Experimental Aircraft Association’s Chapter 292’s hangar houses a reverse engineered cop of Barnaby Wainfan’s FMX-4 “Facetmobile” and a replica DH-2 “Gunbus,” one of several built (the rest were sold to New Zealand).

Across that road, Vince Homer’s hangar is filled with an astounding array of experiments and beautifully-crafted models. Vince is David Ullman’s partner in developing and testing JabirWatt, a very serious attempt at improving short takeoff and landing (STOL) performance, but also in preventing dangerous departures from controlled flight.

JabirWatt’swing with two EDFs. Performance, even with only four total EDFs, is enhanced

David has a large wind tunnel in his hangar on which he’s tested all facets of design he and Vince adapted from a once-wrecked Jabiru. Having seen the airplane in its mangled and restored states, your editor is a bit incredulous. The workmanship is beautiful – not surprising considering David’s craftsmanship on a Velocity a few years ago. That airplane included cooling vents that improved performance and engine longevity.

All four EDFs. Consider the performance possible with fan arrayed across the full span

By the Numbers

Of all the inventive things in David’s hangar, the most prominent is a large wind tunnel, well-instrumented and calibrated enough that others can use it to obtain reliable data for their projects. Recent flights of his Jabirwatt show excellent agreement between wind tunnel and flight data.

What (Watt) Kind of Beast is a JabirWatt?

Dave explains, “The JabirWatt is a stock Jabiru J230-D complete with its original Jabiru 3300 IC engine and with four Electric Ducted Fans (EDFs) mounted inboard on the wings. The Jabiru was purchased as a wrecked, stripped hulk in 2016 and rebuilt over the next eighteen months. The Jabiru airframe is ideal for IDEAL experiments as it was originally designed as a four-place airplane and decommissioned to two-place to meet LSA requirements. Thus, it has space behind the front seats for over 300 lbs ( 136kg) of batteries while staying with the weight and balance limits.

Close agreement between wind tunnel tests and actual flighy data

“The EDFs are 120mm (4.72 inch) off-the-shelf model airplane units powered by a custom LiPoFe 120wh/kg battery pack. The four EDFs are not enough to sustain flight, but sufficient to collect data to compare with wind-tunnel and theoretical results.”
An interim report issued on December 1, 2019 highlights six major results of the detailed testing:

“1. Significant decrease in the stall speed.
“2. Significant increase in all features of the lift curve, the zero intercept (Cl0) the lift curve slope (Clα), and the maximum lift coefficient (Clmax).
“3. Significant decrease in takeoff distance potential
“4. Improved cruise potential
“5. Minimal additional drag when EDFs are unpowered
“6. Good agreement between the wind tunnel and in-flight results”

Results with conventional airfoil.  Yet to be tested – airfoils optimized for PAI

Testing Time

“David reported, “The JabirWatt was first flown in 2018 as a stock aircraft to gather baseline data. JabirWatt experiments were begun in July 2019.”

An interim report can be found on David’s IDEAL web site. .

David’s web site includes a broader description of the aircraft, the theories behind it, and the results from testing – which are exciting.

Battery Constraints

Asked about the batteries on board, David responded, “I used a safer, less energy dense battery chemistry. Lillium and Alice have made claims to investors that they now have to live up to. I don’t have any investors and don’t want a cockpit fire. I am eager to see what you know about the fires. My electric car buddies were not surprised.”

Jabirwocky/JabirWatt

To finish with a literary flourish, Lewis Carroll was a professor of mathematics. Possibly writing Alice in Wonderland as a satirical protest against new math theories arising in the late Victorian era, he included a bizarre poem that used a bizarre vocabulary.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!”
Lewis Carroll

Portmanteau (port-man-toe) words, two words squeezed into one: “lithe and “slimy” becoming “slithy,” abound in the poem.  According to Google, “”Portmanteau words” is now a standard name for such word blends. Among the portmanteaus Carroll invented for Jabberwocky were “galumphing” and “chortled”: the former from “gallop” and “triumphant,” the latter from “chuckle” and “snort.” Both have entered the English language.”

JabirWatt may well be classified as a portmanteau airplane, folding a conventional craft together with advanced technologies.

Extreme Model Example

One modeler took things to an extreme demonstration of what channel wings can do.

Progress at the Speed of Cash – SBIR/STTR

Tine Tomazic of Pipistrel reminded attendees at one symposium that aeronautical progress moves at the speed of cash. Because all of David and Vince’s work has so far been self-funded. they need additional sources of lucre to hasten things along.
Desirable but hard to get, money from the federal government’s Small Business Innovation (SBIR); and the Small Business Technology Transfer program (STTR).

Whatt the future may hold – the JabirWatt Tri-Q – if funds become available

​Dave and Vince hope to obtain funds through STTR t15.04, Integration of Airframe with Distributed Electric Propulsion (DEP) System.  We wish them luck in gaining funding and greater recognition for their grand project.

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Your editor is back in action (in slow motion) having experienced two holes in his stomach, patched neatly by modern medicine and skilled practitioners.  All is reasonably well and getting better.  Certainly better than two well-publicized battery fires.

The Bad News

Coming out of the recent fog, your editor received an email from Karl Kaser (Kasaero) with dreadful news.  One of two Lilium prototypes had burned, somewhat similar to the recent loss of the Eviation Alice in Prescott, Arizona.  Battery fires are of great concern for the future of the emerging industry.

A podcast on the company claims the firm is the, “Best funded air taxi startup in the world,” with 100 million Euros in venture capital riding on its success.  Up to that point in late 2019, Lilium’s worst day was when a co-founder flew a small 3D-printed prototype into a tree.  They have since been surpassed in funding because of Joby’s recent near-unicorn windfalls.

This comes as a major blow following successful public demonstrations last October.

 

A Dissenting Opinion

Four years ago, your editor questioned the ability of the compact craft to contain the then two passengers and necessary battery storage for its intended mission.

More recently, Aerokurier has analyzed the questions of weight and battery size in the five-seat version that would accommodate Uber’s goals.  They are not quite as “respectfully skeptical” as your editor was in 2016.  Their calculations, in German, are detailed in this .pdf.

Some Perspective

As for batteries, the two major prototype losses seem pretty dire, but let’s put things in perspective.  CleanTechnica reports,According to a recent FEMA report, ‘from 2014 to 2016 an estimated 171,500 highway vehicle fires occurred in the United States, resulting in an annual average of 345 deaths; 1,300 injuries; and $1.1 billion in property loss. These highway vehicle fires accounted for 13 percent of fires responded to by fire departments across the nation.’”

“The report adds, ‘Approximately one in eight fires responded to by fire departments across the nation is a highway vehicle fire. This does not include the tens of thousands of fire department responses to highway vehicle accident sites.’”

‘In May, three people were killed when a gas station in Virginia exploded. In February, two cars were destroyed when a gas station in North Carolina burst into flames.’”

Even in end-of-life recycling, these batteries can pose a hazard (not that they’re being handled with kid gloves in a controlled environment).  The Verge reports, “A nightmare for the recycling industry became incarnate when a Texas recycling plant burst into flames in December 2016. The fire caught quickly, melting plastic bottles, consuming cardboard boxes, and incinerating discarded paper. The massive building’s sprinkler system had been damaged in a recent freeze and failed to tamp down the flames. All the firefighters could do was keep the fire contained inside, watching it burn for 12 hours.

“By the next morning, it was clear that the facility, a recycling plant that serves the north Texas cities of Plano and Richardson, was a total loss. The fire’s likely cause? The company believes it was a lithium-ion battery, like the one in your cellphone or laptop.”

As batteries become more energy dense, that desirable characteristic will be accompanied with even greater volatility unless other measures are employed.  This video in the Verge article highlights the potential dangers.

Such hazards are particularly troubling for aircraft.  A battery fire at altitude doesn’t leave many options for escape or quenching the flames.  That neither Eviation nor Lilium have explanations on their web sites should not surprise us: they, like us, are sorting things out and waiting for official pronouncements.

What Can Be Done?

We will endeavor to discuss innovations and developments that will make electric aircraft more plausible, practical and safe.  There are chemistry alternatives being introduced, and several promising methods of reducing thermal runaways and even eliminating the possibility of the magic smoke escaping, as electric aircraft pioneer Randall Fishman once put it.

As your editor gets more energetic and productive, look forward to seeing reports on progress that should accelerate during this year.

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A Short Break for the Blog

This is physically painful to write, but explains a need to reduce output for a few days or weeks.  A blood flow problem in my left hand keeps me awake at night and interferes with concentration during waking hours.  I need to slow down on blog output until a course of action can alleviate the pain.

There are several items in queue and they will be released in due order.  Please be patient while I am being a patient and we’ll get the blog rolling again soon.

This is a concern to me since I’ve been writing and editing the blog on a volunteer basis for the last 10-and-a-half years, with well over 1,300 entries.  We need to keep this effort alive since aviation, like all our industries, needs to achieve earth-saving cleanness.

Thank you for being readers and participants in this great adventure.

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