The Volta is a French electric helicopter, and has been setting endurance records with almost every flight, it seems.  From its first hovering on February 17, 2016, and a first “official” three-minute flight on October 19, Volta has risen to new heights and set new “bests” for itself.

Volta awaits another test flight

Volta is based on Microcopter MC1, a one-of-a-kind model designed in 2004. Propelled by a Subaru engine “that was never successfully regulated,” the MC1 was an ultralight helicopter of conventional design that caused Philippe Antoine to see its possibilities as an electric machine.  Incidentally, you may still be able to get plans for the MC1 from Redback Aviation.

Antoine replaced the fossil-fuel power train with an electric one, including an Enstroj motor.  Interestingly, Aquinea, a swimming pool heating vendor, sponsors the effort and ENAC, the Ecole Nationale de l’Aviation Civile (The National School of Civil Aviation) provides technical support.  He has transformed this unassuming-looking copter to cleaner operation, noting the following advantages for an electric craft:

“The atmospheric pollution is reduced to zero locally. The noise is reduced since there is no internal combustion anymore. And the maintenance cost is highly reduced, as the power chain is much simpler.

Volta’s instrument panel looks conventional, too, with the exception of an interesting glass panel

​“Volta is a conventional helicopter, with a main rotor and a variable blade pitch. Compared to drone-like helicopters with a variable spinning speed, Volta is more efficient, has auto-rotation capability, and is compatible with current airworthiness regulation. Volta builds upon decades of experience and experiments on vertical flight.”

Working with ENAC HCI researchers, he developed the avionics for the machine, while test-bedding their djnn technology.  This software development tool enables interactive responses between an operator and a machine.

Mrs. Ségolène Royal, Minister of the Environment and Energy, tries out the Volta’s controls

Volta weighs 420 kilograms (924 pounds) including 165 kilograms (363 pounds) of batteries, and has a maximum takeoff weight of 520 kilograms (1,144 pounds).  Its 22 kilowatt-hour battery pack can provide flight times up to 40 minutes, according to developers.  Volta’s motor can put out 90 kilowatts (122 hp.) max and 70 kW (95 hp.) continuously.

Volta made its “official” public flight with the Minister of Environment and Energy Mrs. Ségolène Royal, on the Heliport of Paris-Issy-les-Moulineaux.  Other personalities included the Director General of Civil Aviation, the head of Aéroports de Paris, and the Mayor of Issy-les-Moulineaux.   The media was much in evidence.

And, with patience, you can view Volta’s later record-setting 15-minute flight here:

The single-seat Volta, flying these 15 minutes, pretty much in ground effect, has demonstrated its ability to hover for the duration of its batteries’ energy storage.  The developers hope to create a two-seater with up to forty minutes’ duration.   Its display at the 2017 E-Flight Expo has probably excited further interest in this interesting helicopter.

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Aero, an annual event at Friedrichshafen, Germany, highlights the beginning of the European air show season.  E-Flight Expo has been a regular part of this for the last several years, and displays the latest in electric flight technology.  Certainly the most forward-looking part of the show, the Expo grows every year.  Several exhibitors helped further the advanced look this year.

MGM Compro showed a wide range of aircraft powered by its motors

MGM Compro

With at least five aircraft powered by their electric power systems on display, MGM Compro showed great market strength.  The Czech firm has 16 of its motors atop each Volocopter 200, with one as a propulsor in the tail.  Their motors power the Magnus e-Fusion aerobatic trainer, several GP gliders, the S.R.O. Song motorglider, and any number of hang gliders and paramotors.

Votec Evolaris

Two former students of the Bern University of Applied Sciences, Patrick Wälti and Steven Dünki, manage the Evolaris project, with an aerobatic craft as their ultimate output.  They’ve designed and built their own 200 kilowatt, 30 kilogram (66 pound) motor, and have turned to BRUSA Electronik for the airplane’s two DMC534 inverters and the NLG664 charger.  The pair published a feasibility study within a Bachelor degree thesis entitled, “Electric drive for a motorized aerobatic aircraft” in spring 2014.

Votec Evolaris displayed in train station a few days before E-Flight Expo

 

GyroMotion –Electric on the Ground, Mogas in the Air

Richard Glassock from the University of Nottingham in England reports on an interesting autogyro – fueled by mogas in the air and by electricity on the ground.

The Czech company AGN Systems Ltd. combines electric propulsion while on the ground and mogas while in the to propel their adaptation of German AutoGyro.The company explains, “Development department, co-operation with young constructors, designers, technologists and universities, all of these bring us amazing opportunities to achieve our aims that are totally out of usual perception of the society.”  Folks in Prague had their perceptions rocked by the sight of an autogyro taxiing into a parking space.  Whether this is a “flying car” or “roadable aircraft” remains to be seen.

Finding a parking space in Prague, gyro taxis on electric power

Powered by a Rotax engine in the air, “The Gyromotion gyroplane will cruise at maximum air speed up to 180 km/h, burning just 15 liters of fuel at 100 kilometers,” according to AGN . Its “special” license plate allows it “to travel on the road to the airport and back” with a type B driver’s license.  You still need a valid pilot’s license to fly it, though.

Hangar 55

Mike Friend reported for the ByDanJohnson web site on his sightings at the E-Flight Expo.  Since he once owned a Silence Twister, he was of course drawn to a vendor showing their electric version.

Hamilton aEro shows sleek lines, nicely faired nose around Siemens motor

On display at the E-Flight Expo, Hangar 55’s Silence Twister showed off its magnificent graphics from the Hamilton Watch company, a sponsor of the project.  If time flies, it definitely flies on this airplane.  The little aerobat flies on about 80 kilowatts (107 kilowatts), produced by a 13 kilogram (28.6 pound) Siemens motor and 10 kilogram (22 pound) gearbox.  Batteries add kilograms (352 pounds) to the craft’s 310 kilogram (682 pound) empty weight.  With 110 kilograms (242 pounds) for a pilot and nominal luggage, the maximum takeoff weight of 420 kilograms (924 pounds) gives a weight-to-power ratio of 8.64 pounds per horsepower – in the range of other championship aerobatic craft.

Aquinea Volta Electric Helicopter

Setting a record with a 15-minute flight on December 3, 2016, this conventional-looking helicopter has drawn widespread attention in the rotary-wing world.  Its public flights in Paris brought out the Secretary of the Environment and Energy, for instance.

Just these five exhibitors show that we can anticipate even greater displays in the near future.  Others had interesting things on view, and we will bring those your way soon.

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Zunum aero, a startup in Kirkland, Washington, aims to fill the skies with small, quiet electric and hybrid airliners.  These range from a ten-passenger mini-liner to a 50-passenger craft similar to regional jets and feeder airliners.  Zunum is a Mayan word for hummingbird, and like those little speedsters, Zunum aircraft would make short hops efficiently and quietly – with just the hint of a buzz.

Zunum Aero will offer 10-50 passenger electric and hybrid airliners for short hops

Their sales pitch is enticing.  “Imagine leaving your doorstep in San Jose at 7 AM and making it to a 9:30 AM meeting in Pasadena. With Zunum Aero, simply drive to a nearby airfield and walk to your aircraft with bags in tow, for a trip that will take half the time and at a much lower fare. Or skip the meeting altogether, and be on the slopes in Tahoe by 8:40 AM for $100 round-trip, and back home the same evening.”

Avoiding a back-of-the -hand pat-down in front of strangers is almost enough to seal the deal for most of us.  The whole idea is similar to what William T. Piper envisioned with his Cubs transiting short distances between rural towns and landing in community airports or farmer’s fields.  This was aviation at a most democratic level, open to all those who wanted to participate.

Boeing Horizon X program focuses on new business ventures with potentially disruptive technologies

As Zunum points out, “Our stock of 13,500 airports is the largest in the world, yet just 140 of the largest hubs carry over 97% of air traffic. This has left many of us with long drives to catch a flight, while on shorter trips we skip air travel altogether. Communities without good air service also struggle to attract investment and create jobs.”  Boeing, through its Horizon X program, backs this disruptive business model and the technology involved.  Jet Blue’s Technology Ventures wants to explore the lucrative, and mostly neglected markets such airplanes can open.

Although the Internet promises commuter-less living, most of us still grudgingly embrace daily gridlock to reach an office with other wage slaves.  Our meetings with distant members of our corporate tribe or clients involve the inconvenience of suffering more gridlock only to remove our shoes and pass a series of unspoken tests.  Then we are allowed onto a big metal tube hosted by sometimes churlish “attendants,” who’ve gone through much the same ordeal to be there to serve us.

A small airplane with a single-aisle separating only window seats would be a great improvement, propelled by a quiet battery or hybrid power system.  Trips between regional hub airports or to destination attractions would actually be faster than the big bird alternative, and a great deal less frustrating.

Since Zunum’s aircraft will fly slower and at lower altitudes than the big birds, passengers could enjoy the view and spot landmarks, or enjoy their wireless connections to the bigger world.  Zunum promises stewardship for the land passing beneath their wings, with their small craft, “that sip fuel only when they have to.”  As batteries continually improve, fuel will be less a necessity.  Electric flight would be less expensive and not subject to the market fluctuations to which aviation fuels are prey.

The aircrafts’ wings seen in their illustrations have straight trailing edges and slightly swept leading edges, a combination seen on DC-3s and T-6 Texans.  These craft fly in the lower end of what passengers might expect from Zunum’s petite airliners.

Concept with Zunum airplanes over Seattle with larger airliner at lower altitude

Your editor has flown on both a Ford Tri-Motor and a Dehavilland Dragon, a twin-engine biplane.  They are wonderful, but not thoroughly practical experiences.  A modern equivalent capable of providing a great view, faster-than-driving journeys, and the convenience of landing in or near one’s destination will reduce the stress of modern air travel while increasing its enjoyment.

Zunum’s four founding principals are highly educated and devoted to the concept.  With Wright Aero, Empirical Systems Aerospace, Inc. (ESAero) and Aurora Flight Sciences working on similar concepts, a growing number of entrepreneurs see the marketplace as open for business.  Their success will only make flying a nicer experience.

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Already proving its ability to climb at a great rate on its own, the Siemens-powered Extra 330LE towed an LS-8 sailplane to 600 meters (1.968 feet) in a mere 76 seconds.  This alone could be a gift to soaring.

LS-8 sailplane release from climb to 600 meters in only 76 seconds behind Extra 330LE tow plane.  Photo: Jean Marie Urlacher

Sitting at the controls of a sailplane being towed aloft behind a conventionally-powered tow plane proves taxing, for the many minutes it takes to gain a release height of 2,000 or 3,000 feet can seem somewhat endless.  It’s also expensive for the gliding club or commercial operation.  The soaring club in which your editor was a member calculated the average tow for a Piper Pawnee or Cessna AgWagon consumed around 2.7 gallons to 3.0 gallons of $5.00 a gallon avgas.  Twenty or thirty tows a day make for significant operational costs.

It’s also the most dangerous part of the flight.  A wrong move by a student (or experienced pilot) on tow can put two airplanes and their occupants into the dirt.  Engine failure at low altitude forces instant and precise decisions, as does a rope break.  Getting higher quicker is a great safety enhancement.

Going up at over 1,500 feet per minute is double the climb rate of many popular two-seat trainers, and since the Extra tows an additional 550 pound LS-8 (plus pilot weight) that rapidly, it will cut down tow times, allowing it to return for another tow efficiently.  Such capabilities will be welcome in soaring operations.

The 50 kilogram (110 pound) motor puts out about 260 kilowatts (348 horsepower), enough to allow the Extra 330LE to set two new time-to-climb records, top out at around 340 kilometers per hour (210.8 mph) over a three kilometer distance, and still make the first aero tow of a sailplane by an electric tow plane.

Walter Extra piloted the namesake airplane at the Dinslaken Schwarze Heide airfield in Germany, breaking several records previously held by William (Chip) Yates.  Chip, incidentally, has recently reported fitting new batteries to his Long-ESA (Electric Speed and Altitude) for his own attempts at new records.  Competition improves the breed, and the electric breed might see some interesting matches soon.

Small motor, massive battery pack make for high speeds, quick climbs

Siemens intends even bigger and better things for their motor technology.  As reported in their press release, “Siemens is contributing this technology to the cooperative project that Siemens and Airbus agreed to in April 2016 for driving the development of electrically powered flight. Electric drives are scalable, and Siemens and Airbus will be using the record-setting motor as a basis for developing regional airliners powered by hybrid-electric propulsion systems. Siemens is determined to establish hybrid-electric propulsion systems for aircraft as a future area of business.”

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Tomas Broedreskift, on his Equator Facebook page, reports, “Successful motor test with propeller mounted today with #engiro! Celebrating the milestone with some German  (beer glass emoticon) this evening!  (noise maker emoticons) Amazing to see the thing come alive at last.”

As the video shows, the Equator P2’s motor can be made to run in reverse, useful for backing out of moorages or avoiding river debris when the amphibian settles on the water.  Engiro makes range extenders on a custom basis for a variety of applications including (surprise!) amphibious aircraft.

The Equator P2’s first long-distance trip, 1,361 kilometers (843 miles) from Norway to Aachen, Germany was obviously not by air, but by hand-crafted trailer, to Engiro’s headquarters where the motor tests took place.  Following those tests, the hardy team will trek another 600 kilometers (373 miles) to Friedrichshafen, where the P2 will hold a place of honor at Aero17’s E-Flight Expo.  Doubtless, attendees at Aero who find Hall 7 and booth 303 will be delighted by what they find.

Equator on compact trailer bed, ensuring all the big pieces fit

The last part of seven years and 20,000 hours of building this unique aircraft were spent on the means of getting the P2 to Aero17.  P2’s trailer is a custom-made item, with the aircraft’s components neatly tucked into fitted accommodations and covered by a form-fitted top, a bit like a short sailplane trailer.  The team worked day and night to enable motor testing at Engiro and still leave time to haul the airplane south to the big event.

Carefully fitted top weatherproofs aircraft. Note wing stubs adding aerodynamic flair to “big rig”

Living up to the “E” in E-Flight Expo, the Equator P2 will show that it is Ecological, Electrical, and perhaps a few steps ahead of Evolutionary.  Equator’s Facebook page explains, “We’re a small start -up company with big dreams,” adding that the firm is, “Focusing on Automated, Efficient, Sustainable and Usable Air Vehicle Design.”  The world is about to find out how correct that description truly is.

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Much like waiting for the single-person ram-jet helicopter to show up in your garage, you’ll be left hanging for a two- or four-seat Airbus e-Fan to grace your hangar.  Although not sharing the news in its “Innovation” or press release sections on its web site, Airbus has announced that it’s dropping plans to produce an E-Fan family of personal aircraft.  It will move instead into developing a larger, more powerful aircraft, the E-Fan X, that could fly within three years.

Smallest Airbus (Cri-Cri) in front of largest, the A380

Airbus started with a four-motor rendition of the Cri-Cri, four MGM Compro units twirling contra-rotating propellers and producing 60 horsepower.  Their “Innovation” program followed that with the tw0-seat E-Fan, and announced plans to build these in series at their cleverly named Voltair plant in southwest France.  Airbus further suggested series production would begin on a four-seat E-Fan 4.0 touring aircraft.  They showed a hybrid version of the E-Fan 2.0 trainer at Oshkosh in 2016.  But they are moving on toward bigger and ostensibly better things.

Flyer, a UK-based publication, explains, “Airbus has abandoned its plan to produce the electric E-Fan two-seater as a ready-for-sale training aircraft. The French company says the pace of development in the electric aircraft field has moved its ambitions onwards.

“’We recognize that the progression is fast in electric and hybrid electric propulsion,’ said Stefan Schaffrath, media spokesman for Airbus. ‘This plane has done its job. Today, a large part of the technologies developed for E-Fan is in new projects.’”  Below, we see a video of what might have been.

The petite Cri-Cri had four 15-hp. motors, and the E-Fan 2.0 had two 30 kilowatt (40.2 hp.) units.  Since their initial flights, though, things have progressed quickly.  Airbus and Siemens have flown an Extra 300 with a 260 kilowatt (348 hp) motor, a combination that recently achieved a time-to-climb record.

Aviation Week reports Schaffrath as saying, “That is a 10-times increase in our ability to deliver power in flight.  Three years ago we kicked off the E-fan. Today we are evaluating if we could fly an E-Fan X in the next three years that would be 2 megawatts—another order of magnitude change.’”

Even while extolling the accomplishments of the projected E-Fan personal aircraft, Airbus was looking toward bigger projects.  They signed a collaborative agreement with Siemens in April 2016 “to demonstrate the feasibility of hybrid-electric propulsion by 2020, as a precursor to developing a commercial aircraft with fewer than 100 seats that could enter service by 2030.”  The two megawatt demonstrator would be a sample of what the companies hope to achieve with a single-aisle hybrid craft with 20 to 40 megawatts of power.

With the A3 (A Cubed) group in Silicon Valley promoting vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) sky taxis such as the single-seat Vahana and the four-seat CityAirbus for near-future aerial commuting, the company may be re-focusing its outlook on personal aviation.  Things will go from personal flying to personally getting flown to nearby destinations.

Airbus A3 Vahana awaits its trusting passenger

Schaffrath adds, “If we are reconsidering E-Fan now it is because we are shooting—as a leading aircraft manufacturer—for something more ambitious and timely, and the current E-Fan project would not have been able to scale up to this ambition.”

This is sad news for aspiring e-pilots.  Such adherents of personal aviation may have to look for a wing of the Experimental Aircraft Association to advance their aims.  In the meantime, Airbus sees a future more closely aligned to their already thriving airliner business.  With potential competitors like Wright Electric and Aurora Flight Sciences making inroads on early development of electric airliners, it will need to move quickly.

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We are excited to share this press release from Eric Raymond at Solar Flight.  Being in on things at the beginning of an extraordinary new technology is something that we strive for in this blog.  We were alerted to this by Dr. Abraham Van Helsing from the Transcendental Aerodynamics Department of the University of Transylvania.  He has been advising Eric on some arcane aspects of what most will agree are nearly unbelievable propulsion techniques.

For immediate Release

April 1, 2017

Today Solar Flight Inc. is proud to announce the roll out of its newest electric aircraft, the Monarch.

Seen from above, artist’s concept of Solar Flight’s BLP-1 Monarch displays absolute lack of unnecessary aerodynamic appendages

In secret development for the last 2 years, it breaks new ground for this small aircraft development firm.

The most revolutionary aspect of the new aircraft is its lack of a propeller, or any other visible means of propulsion.

The work began when Solar Flight’s founder, Eric Raymond, became interested in research being done on boundary layer propulsion for submarines. While this has been shown to work underwater for ultra-quiet movement of submarines, conventional wisdom has held that this could not be done in air.

Eric enjoying the roominess typical of his other craft, unencumbered by overly long wingspan or unnecessary tail surfaces. All that extra lift would create additional drag, after all

It was a tough nut to crack, but after small scale experiments to polarize the air near a composite surface, Raymond found an efficient way to accelerate the air nearest the surface, called the boundary layer.  This is similar to the way the bladeless fans on sale in high-tech stores work.

Another way to look at this is as a form of linear induction motor, pushing against the magnetized air.

Raymond explains;

“Since this is a very delicate form of propulsion, the first thing we needed to do was reduce drag to the absolute limit.  We did this by eliminating all un-necessary parts of the aircraft, therefore it has a tailless configuration.”

Exact details about the propulsion system are still secret, but those known reveal that a complex array of thin wires are embedded into the composite skin, on all surfaces of the aircraft.  Through these wires, carefully timed pulses of very high voltage – blips of power, are sent through the wires, which when timed properly, pulls the air along the surface eliminating drag or even reversing it, therefore creating thrust.

Mr. Raymond explains; “This opens a whole new realm of flight , once we have been able to reduce aerodynamic drag to zero, our flight speed is only limited by the propulsion system.”

Seen from below, aerodynamic simplification of the design becomes apparent

The BLP-1 Monarch carries no batteries, solar power being converted directly to the high voltage pulses that need to be carefully timed to match the aircraft’s speed through the air.

Modern high speed switching electronics make this breakthrough possible.

Stay tuned for news of the imminent test flight.

Please be sure to keep up with the latest developments on Eric’s web site.

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Paris to London Using No Fossil Fuels

Jeff Engler fired up a start-up, Wright Electric, about a year ago.  Last week, he presented at the Y Combinator Winter 2017 Demo Day – a semi-annual event where venture capitalists can meet the latest in venturesome mendicants.  Tech Crunch describes the firm’s goals, which include electric flights between London and Paris on no fossil fuels – ambitious to say the least.

Jeff Engler presenting at the Computer History Museum showing what some publications call a “mockup” of his proposed airplane. it’s actually a rendering of ESAero’s similar design concept

“Wright Electric wants to build the world’s first electric airplane (at least the first 150 seat electric airliner). One of the main reasons airlines like Southwest can offer low fares is that they pre-purchase gas, but Wright sees an opportunity to make flights even cheaper by using electric planes instead. The company is targeting the 30 percent of all flights that are 300 miles or less, and is partnering with EasyJet to start. As technology improves, it believes its planes will be able to go after the $26 billion short-haul flight market.”

Jeff has managed to attract a large number of contributors to his efforts since first announcing his intentions.  Industry insiders, NASA specialists, and even Chip Yates have signed on to provide guidance and expertise for Jeff’s agenda.  The group went from initially testing a Piper Cherokee with a small electric motor on one wing to developing a nine-seat commuter concept, but has now settled on creating the short-range people hauler of the future.

Chip Yates with record-holding Long-ESA outside Computer History Museum

Wright Electric is onto something here.  Jeff reports, in his March 12 blog, “Good news: we’re excited to report we have a potential partnership with one airline. Also: a high-net-worth-individual wants our electric 150-seater as his fifth private jet. Woo hoo!

It’s all very new and fragile, but it’s like what startup guru Andy Swan says about walking on ice: ‘When it’s slick, a tiny bit of momentum is all you need.’”

Jeff sees an “enormous market” in the 150-seat airliner market.  He notes that in 2016, Boeing and Airbus sold 967 “narrow body” 737s and A320s at about $90 million per airplane.  That $87 billion annual market is enticing several manufacturers to look at electrifying it.  Further, 30 percent of all narrow body flights are 300 miles or less, a “doable” goal for even a large electric aircraft.  That makes for a $26 billion market.

As part of the doability function, Jeff divides matters into aerodynamic and battery compartments.  He reports, We’re not inventing new wings or fuselage formats. Our airframe is designed to comply with existing FAA regulations. The aero team has decades of experience at places like Boeing Phantom Works and Cessna. They’ve received numerous grants from NASA focusing specifically on electric planes. If anyone can design a feasible plane, it’s these folks.”

His battery strategy is flexible, to be able to respond to “different battery futures.”  If things stay at the plateau they on which they now reside, the team adopts a hybrid approach.  “It still has great cost savings as compared to today’s planes, and it doesn’t require massive battery advances.”  If batteries become significantly better in the next decade, the fully-electric design will be able to take full advantage of that while offering “fantastic cost savings.”

Regardless of how good batteries get, they would be in modules that could be swapped out while the airliner is on the ground unloading and reloading passengers and being readied for its next trip.

Aurora Flight Science’s D8 would be comparable competition to Wright Electric Aero’s design

Several others in the aerospace industry – ranging from Airbus and Boeing to Empirical Systems Aerospace, Inc. (ESAero) and Aurora Flight Sciences are preparing similar design concepts, often backed by government or academic institutions.  With such interest in a lucrative market, progress will be well funded, not always such a happy circumstance in the aerospace world.  Despite skepticism from many in the industry, Jeff reports interest from easyJet, a European low-cost carrier.  Eliminating fuel costs would make economical flights profitable, moving beyond merely plausible.

We wish Jeff every bit of luck to accompany his uncanny ability to raise interest and cash.

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Air meets have been an important part of aviation history, bringing pilots, planes nad the public together in a symbiotic gathering.  This was true in aviation’s genesis; things gaining a tremendous impetus with air meets throughout Europe and America following Wilbur Wright’s 1908 public demonstrations near Le Mans, France.

Airshows proliferated throughout Europe and America following Wilbur Wright’s sensational 1908 flight demonstrations

René Maier, ex-Colonel of the Swiss Army and current President of the newly formed organization team for an annual event organized at the Grenchen Regional Airport, has announced the SmartFlyer Challenge, touted as the first fly-in for electric aircraft.  The event, to be held September 9 and 10, 2017, will make Grenchen “the center of electric flight,” according to the organizers.  Static and air displays of electric and hybrid-electric powered aircraft will help drive that message home.

University students developed motor and reduction drive to convert MSW Votec 221 to electric power

Organizers advertise at least four aircraft scheduled to appear, including an electrified Votec 221 being prepared by a group of university students at Innocampus Biel at the Bern University of Applied SciencesHangar 55’s Hamilton aEro Twister, Lange Aviation’s Antares self-launching sailplane, and Ruppert Composite’s new Archaeopteryx W/N-3.  The serendipitously named Smartflyer project might have at least a presentation.

Smartflyer, sharing name with event, is four-seat electric craft under development near Grenchen

Europe abounds in other electric-powered machines, ranging from powered parachutes and hang gliders to hydrogen-fueled motorgliders.  Pipistrel would have an easy commute to bring its Alpha Electro trainer and Taurus motorglider.  Silent motorgliders, electric Songs and FES-powered sailplanes hangar in neighboring countries, and Eric Raymond’s Sunseeker Duo would be a worthy attraction.  Perhaps even Tomas Broedreskift could show off his Equator P2 – although a trip from Norway would be more than leisurely.

Another Swiss project, Solar Stratos, is close enough to trailer in, and other machines from Colin Gologan’s solar-powered flugzeugwerke would enhance its display nicely.  The possibilities seem endless, with a range of technologies, that assembled in one place, will dazzle onlookers.

Archaeopteryx delights crowd at early flight. Close-up demonstrations will help “sell” electric aircraft to populace

Adding to the fixed-wing craft, we hope e-volo shows its Volocopter and is able to give a public demonstration.  Crowds would love to see a corresponding demonstration by Autogyro GmbH’s electric Cavalon autogyro.  The potential for a grand show is certainly there.  Let’s hope the event draws exhibitors in worthy numbers.

 

A surfeit of sponsors will help underwrite and subsidize the show, a hopeful sign that the aeronautical arts and commerce can find fulfillment in the show.  We wish this gathering every success, and further wish we could be there for a pioneering meeting reminiscent of the early days of fossil-fuel aviation.

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Hydrogen would be a nearly perfect fuel if it didn’t take more energy to extract it than you can get out of it.  Scientists have been working for years to isolate it in an economical fashion.  The most common element in the universe, hydrogen makes up 10 percent of the weight of living things here on earth – mainly in water, proteins and fats.  Its bonds in water make it pervasive, but still distant.  Obtaining it can be as simple as the video below. But the short bursts derived from this approach will exhaust the battery and not provide as much energy in return.

Waste Not, Want Not

Ironically, much of the earth’s other resources, more easily gained, are wasted in our society’s rush to consume.  Recent reports show that up to a third of the food produced today goes to waste.  Huge quantities of biomass could seemingly be put to good use rather than adding to the methane that threatens to speed up global warming.  The University of Cambridge points out, “As natural resources decline in abundance, using waste for energy is becoming more pressing for both governments and business.”

Scientists there have shown that sunlight at ambient temperatures can produce hydrogen gas from just about any biomass source as long as it’s loaded with lignocellulose, a major component of plants and trees.  Dr Moritz Kuehnel, from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge, explains the difficulty in working with it.

“Lignocellulose is nature’s equivalent to armored concrete. It consists of strong, highly crystalline cellulose fibers that are interwoven with lignin and hemicellulose which act as a glue. This rigid structure has evolved to give plants and trees mechanical stability and protect them from degradation, and makes chemical utilization of lignocellulose so challenging.”

We usually obtain energy from such products by burning them, but the need to get clean hydrogen fuel from such sources usually involves high temperatures and pre-processing to break down the materials’ rigid walls.  Cambridge researchers found ways around that.

An Ideal Solution?

In their “simple photocatalytic conversion process,” they add catalytic nanoparticles to a container of alkaline water in which the biomass is suspended.  Researchers then place the container in front of a light in the lab which mimics solar light.  They report, “The solution is ideal for absorbing this light and converting the biomass into gaseous hydrogen which can then be collected from the headspace. The hydrogen is free of fuel-cell inhibitors, such as carbon monoxide, which allows it to be used for power.”

A leaf in water exposed to sunlight gives off hydrogen.  How much?

Absorbing solar light, the nanoparticle absorbs energy and uses it “to undertake complex chemical reactions,” rearranging the atoms in the water and biomass to form hydrogen fuel and other organic chemicals, such as formic acid and carbonate.

Dr David Wakerley, also of the Department of Chemistry, says: “There’s a lot of chemical energy stored in raw biomass, but it’s unrefined, so you can’t expect it to work in complicated machinery, such as a car engine. Our system is able to convert the long, messy structures that make up biomass into hydrogen gas, which is much more useful. We have specifically designed a combination of catalyst and solution that allows this transformation to occur using sunlight as a source of energy. With this in place we can simply add organic matter to the system and then, provided it’s a sunny day, produce hydrogen fuel.”

The head of the Christian Doppler Laboratory for Sustainable SynGas Chemistry at the University of Cambridge, Dr. Erwin Reisner, adds: “Our sunlight-powered technology is exciting as it enables the production of clean hydrogen from unprocessed biomass under ambient conditions. We see it as a new and viable alternative to high temperature gasification and other renewable means of hydrogen production.

Future development can be envisioned at any scale, from small scale devices for off-grid applications to industrial-scale plants, and we are currently exploring a range of potential commercial options.”

Although only test tube-sized now, the potential applications could be a future source of clean energy.  We’ll have to see whether larger size systems provide usable hydrogen in as economic a fashion as the researchers predict.

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