Dynamic Flight Testing for Volocopter

Kathrin Mohr sent this interesting update on the Volocopter VC200 demonstrating its dynamic flight properties.  Testing took place a “special flight test area in Bavaria,” with the goal being to find out how the two-seat vehicle handles at higher altitudes and speeds.

The first manned flight took place in Bruchsal near Karlsruhe this year at the end of March, with managing director Alexander Zosel at the controls – when he wasn’t showing how the machine could manage itself hands off.

By flying at around 330 feet, well above ground effect’s added lift, the VC200 shows it can maintain stable flight with adequate power, and can maneuver at higher speeds, up to 51.1 kilometers per hour (31.7 mph) in these tests.    Volocopter’s designers, engineers and programmers will use results in optimizing flight characteristics for serial production, and determining power requirements for different flight maneuvers at different speeds.  Only slightly disappointing, e-volo coyly avoids number on the noise test part of the video, although the soundtrack indicates a low noise level, even at the gross weight of 450 kilograms (990 pounds).

Positioning and height automation were deactivated during parts of the testing, allowing evaluation of the limits of flight behavior for the helicopter.  Since the aircraft has demonstrated that it can operate without a pilot on board, the e-volo development team was able to fly its by remote control, taking advantage of a special permit for that purpose.

As the VC200 might look when it comes into production and helps clear up freeway congestion in the bay area

As the VC200 might look when it comes into production and helps clear up freeway congestion

According to e-volo, “The flight characteristics can be predetermined by altering the parameters in the control software. The goal is to program the future series-produced Volocopter as a sporty and agile aircraft while also preventing unsafe flight maneuvers, no matter how aggressively the pilot operates the joystick.“

e-volo can now proceed with the next steps for hardware and software, with more test flights to follow.


A forever battery would be nice, wouldn’t it?  Something low cost that could be recharged in seconds, time after time, indefinitely, and be about as environmentally sensitive as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club combined – there’s the ideal battery.

That might seem like a miracle, and it relies on that miracle material – graphene – for its many astounding properties to help make this flexible battery a reality.

Dr. Han Lin with graphene supercapacitor printed on 3D printer in background

Dr. Han Lin with graphene supercapacitor printed on 3D printer in background

Dr. Han Lin of Swinburne University in New South Wales, Australia has 3D printed his prototype battery at a much lower cost than with previous production techniques.  The immediate “take” on this material is that it could be used in things like watch straps, powering the attached timekeeper, or in (inter)active sports clothing.

Of course, this blog looks for larger applications, such as something that could be used in electric aircraft.  Graphene has the potential to be a structural material (about a hundred times stronger than steel, according to 3ders.org) and a powerhouse of electrical storage.

Graphene has been “printed” before by Dr.Richard Kaner and his graduate student Maher El-Kady at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).  With nothing more than a standard LightScribe DVD burner, El-Kady created over 100 microscale supercapacitors in fewer than 30 minutes on a discs coated with a graphite oxide film.  This took place over four years ago.

Huge surface area made possible by two-dimensional graphene opens new potential for lightweight batteries

Huge surface area made possible by two-dimensional graphene opens new potential for lightweight batteries

Printing flexible supercapacitors on what looks like a standard 3D printer, Dr. Lin presented these new energy storage devices at Fresh Science Victoria 2016 earlier this year.  Although the only note on the supercapacitor’s performance is that they equal available lithium-ion batteries, their light weight and potentially inexpensive fabrication should encourage further development.

The fact that graphene is two-dimensional carbon makes it a more easily recycled or reused material than lithium, which presents issues for disposal when batteries reach their life limit.

We look forward to seeing where Han Lin and his researchers can take this low-cost technique for manufacturing, and whether there is additional performance to be pulled from this material.


Want to See a Big Tesla Fly?

Teslarati, the forum for Tesla fans, includes a fascinating concept for an electric/jet airliner, as proposed by Peter Egan, a web-site member from Artarmon, New South Wales, Australia.  His proposal could be applied to smaller jet airliners in anything up to the Boeing 737 or Airbus A320 class.

He uses a Bombardier CJR1000 100-passenger regional jet for his example, and shows a large motor pod-elevator replacement on each side of the fin, with counter-rotating propellers on either side of the rudder.  (Whether this arrangement would be aerodynamically or structurally sound remains open to investigation.)  His concept drawing includes the existing General Electric-CF34-8C5A1 turbofans for comparison, but they would be removed.

CRJ1000 modified for electric power

CRJ1000 modified for electric flight, 2,500 kilometer (1,550 mile) range with reduced fuel use.  Note horizontal tail is replaced with elevator/motor mount system.  Conventional jet engines would be removed in this version and are shown here for size comparison

The GE engines put out 13,630 pounds (60.6 kiloNewtons) of thrust at takeoff.  Peter substitutes a pair of twin- motor/counter-rotating propeller units, each with: two permanent magnet electric motors, rated at 1,200 kW (1,608 hp.) continuous power, with 1,400 kW (1,876 hp.) each available for takeoff.  That totals 5,600kW (7,506 hp.) for take-off, from motors weighing 280 kilograms (616 pounds ) each and totaling 1,120 kilograms (2,464 pounds).

A single Pratt & Whitney PW127TS – 1,864 kilowatts (2,498 hp.) continuous with 2,386 kW (3,198 hp) take-off power would power two 1,000 kilowatt (1,340 hp.) (up to 1,200 kW, or 2,608 hp. for takeoff power) generators to provide energy to the batteries.  Batteries in turn consist of forty 21.15 kilowatt-hour modules for a total of 846 kW.h – 5.75% above the airplane’s nominal capacity of 800 kWh.  They would give a battery-only range of 100 kilometers (62 miles) with a 10 kilometer reserve (6.2 miles) if the APU fails, enough in most circumstances to find a safe landing.  Peter adds to that the altitude glide reserve plus battery reserve.  This all adds up to about 12 minutes flight time without the APU operational.

To support the aircraft, a Tesla tug would tow the airplane to the end of the runway before takeoff and a 1,000 kW charger would bring batteries up to full charge while the airplane is parked.  Wheel motors will taxi the aircraft and help it accelerate to takeoff speed.

CRJ1000 in more conventional form

CRJ1000 in more conventional form

Peter calculates a “25 percent improvement in fuel economy expected compared to 86 seat Bombardier Q400 turboprop.”  The same motor/APU concept could be applied to other aircraft in this size and weight range, according to Mr. Egan.  You can see more details on this interesting proposal here.

Certainly, with growing concern over environmental and health issues regarding fossil-fuel powered jet liners, improvements in fuel economy and a concomitant reduction in emissions will be welcome.  Peter Egan’s concept is a launch point for many possible iterations and variations.


A Final Landing for Solar Impulse

Bertrand Piccard closed out the over-year-long endurance test of man and machine, landing in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, where the 17-leg journey began over a year ago.

Solar Impulse 2's support team on the ground in Abu Dhabi to greet Bertrand Piccard

Solar Impulse 2’s support team on the ground in Abu Dhabi to greet Bertrand Piccard

Landing at night in the glow of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center, the largest mosque in the UAE, and greeted by fellow pilot Andre’ Borschberg, the project’s sponsor HSH Prince Albert of Monaco, and a large throng in western and Middle Eastern garb, the flight climaxed not only an aerial adventure, but an opportunity to share multiple cultures and teach thousands of children and youth about alternative energy and the way to a green future for all.

Whether the promises made at the United Nations and at COP21 in Paris last December will be honored will in large part determine how successful the flight really was.

The team’s blog reflects a bit on the importance of the journey, and the worldwide affect it has had.

” This flight represents the most incredible wrap-up of this adventure. With André Borschberg joining his engineers one last time at the Mission Control Center in Monaco for the first half of the flight and Bertrand Piccard piloting the revolutionary solar airplane to the finish line. Inflight discussions were rich with passion and depth. Bertrand exchanged ideas with the dedicated UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the passionate Christiana Figueres (former Executive Secretary of UNFCCC), the adventurer David de Rothschild, the newly appointed Patricia Espinosa (current Executive Secretary of UNFCCC), the Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann, famous R&B artist Akon, and the charming actress Marion Cotillard sharing this achievement with them.”

We will reflect in future entries what this adventure truly means to the future, and how #FutureisClean might help a troubled world redeem its best qualities.


Two years ago, Mark Zuckerberg, the head of Facebook, promised a far-reaching goal for his firm.

Today, we’re sharing some details of the work Facebook’s Connectivity Lab is doing to build drones, satellites and lasers to deliver the internet to everyone.

Facebook drones would be interconnected in the sky and to the ground

Facebook drones would be interconnected in the sky and to the ground

”Our goal with Internet.org is to make affordable access to basic internet services available to every person in the world.”

We reported on this activity almost a year ago, and provided technical details that are coming to fruition with the first flight of the Aquila drone, a large flying wing that looks a great deal like the Prandtl-D research vehicle designed by Al Bowers and a group of graduate students.  A primary difference – Facebook’s machine has winglets or tip rudders to assist in directional control.

The Facebook video shows the highlights, but the following video from the BBC gives more detail and insights from Jay Parikh, head of global engineering for Facebook.

Note that the launch vehicle has additional motors and propellers to assist acceleration on takeoff.   As a side note, the motors on the aircraft appear to be Joby types.

If Zuckerberg’s dream for the future comes true, a virtually-interconnected world becomes a real possibility.  Such stratospheric persistence will be a good deal less expensive to launch and maintain than traditional space satellites.  As noted before, the introduction of cell phones in the developing world allowed remote villages to find useful news, weather reports, and even markets for their products.  For those areas of the world without an electric grid, the possibilities of local solar power coupled with communications links from the skies could make all the difference between poverty and prosperity.

Zuckerberg and the leaders at Google (with their competing balloon approach to such connectivity) could expand the reach of shared knowledge and commerce in new and exciting ways.


Honda Doesn’t Like Its Motors Rare (Earth)

Martyn Williams, writing for CIO.com, asserted that Honda’s announcement of its new electric motor, “…Is a big deal, not just in terms of technology but of geopolitics, too.”  The motor is the world’s first for hybrid cars “that doesn’t use heavy rare-earth metals – a major step forward in the development of motors that are free from the political whims of the Chinese government.”

This is a big deal in that China is the primary source for heavy rare earth metals, controlling as much as 80-percent of those materials used in electronics and motors*.  China has blocked access to the materials in the past, stopping Japan from receiving exports for two months over a territorial dispute.  That caused Honda and other Japanese companies to find ways to replace rare earth metals in their products. 

Traditionally, the neodymium magnets used in hybrid and electric car motors included one or both of the rare earth metals dysprosium and terbium. They were added to ensure very high heat resistance.

Rotor for Honda

Rotor for Honda i-DCD drive motor, formed from a Daido Steel-supplied neodymium material that uses no heavy rare metals

But Daido Steel, a Japanese steel maker, came up with an alternative production method that produces a magnet with even greater heat resistance properties without requiring the rare earth metals.

Honda worked with Daido on perfecting the magnet and designed a new motor for use in hybrid vehicles. Daido Steel will begin mass production of the motor in August, and Honda plans to use it in the “Freed,” a new min MVP (multi-purpose vehicle) the company will launch in Japan later this year.

Rare Earth Elements, Minerals and Metals

Gareth Hatch, writing in the Technology Metal Research web site, explains “Rare-Earth Terminology – A Quick Refresher On The Basics,” which helps sort out the differences between rare earth minerals, rare earth metals and rare earth elements.

He explains what he calls a “contentious” difference of opinion used to describe the specific sub-groups of rare earth elements (REEs) known as light (LREE), medium (MREE) and heavy REEs (HREEs), illustrating the breakdown in the chart below.

Honda Designs the Motor, Daido Provides a Special Steel

According to Green Car Congress, Daido Electronics Co., Ltd., a subsidiary of Daido Steel, “produces neodymium magnets using the hot deformation method, which differs from the typical sintering production method for neodymium magnets.”

Rare earth elements

Rare earth elements, arrranged from light to heavy.  Nd (Neodymium), Eu (Europium), Tb (Terbium), Dy (Dysprosium), and Y (Yttrium) are particularly important to the creation of sustainable energy sources

The technique aligns nanometer-scale crystal grains into a fine crystal grain structure approximately ten times smaller than that of a sintered magnet, producing magnets with greater heat resistance properties.

Daido Steel and Honda have worked together to make a new drive motor using that material, the first “practical application of a neodymium magnet which contains absolutely no heavy rare earth,” but with the heat resistance and high performance necessary for electric vehicle use.  This may also open new lines of motor development in which rare earth elements do not play a part.

The freedom from supply inconstancies is important in continuing production of motors and electronic devices that otherwise rely on materials for which supply lines could be cut on a whim.

In a closing of a circle broken decades ago, Daido Steel now procures its powders for forming these magnets from Magnequench International Inc. (located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada), and will work with Magnequench “to develop new types of raw magnetic powders for the purpose of realizing enhanced magnetic properties.”

*See David Cay Johnston’s 2007 book Free Lunch (ISBN 978-1-59184-191-3), chapter 4, concerning how the United States shut down its only neodymium mine in 1996 and allowed control of Magnaquench, a General Motors startup, to be ceded to China.  Magnaquench is back in North America, but is now a Canadian company.


Kreisel Brothers – Austrian Entrepreneurs

We keep hoping for the long-awaited 10X, or even 5X battery that would make electric aviation “pop” in a significant way.  The Kreisel brothers in Austria are not developing new batteries or chemistries, but through careful design and manufacturing techniques, manage to reduce weight in their battery packages – one example being the two “ultra-lightweight battery units” they supply for PC-Aero’s Elektra One.  With a total weight of “just 64 kilograms,” (140.8 pounds), the packs “provide [an] efficient and reliable energy supply for a range of 400 kilometers (248 miles)… a flight duration of three hours [and a] speed of 160 kilometers per hour (99.2 mph).”

Each pack stores 5.8 kilowatt-hours of electrical energy, or 5.52 kw-hr./kg.  That’s roughly an eight-percent savings over the Teslas’s battery, if all else is equal.  It might be a harder number to achieve in a small package, there probably being a certain irreducible minimum of things that weigh down the small package disproportionately more than a larger battery system.

Tesla’s 90 kilowatt battery, according to Battery University, weighs 1,200 (1,188 multiplying 540 time 2.2) pounds (540 kilograms), storing 6 kilowatt-hours per kilogram.  Other electric vehicles fare less well.  A Chevy Volt, for instance, has a 16 kilowatt-hour battery that weighs 181 kilograms (398.2 pounds), weighing 11.3 kilograms per kilowatt.  Kreisel’s does well with existing cells.

Planned expansion with photovoltaic roofs to provide building's energy

Planned expansion with photovoltaic roofs to provide building’s energy

Kreisel Electric is expanding its facilities – not quite a gigafactory, but a high-level kilofactory capable of producing 800,000 kWh per year.  According to the company, the 6,276 square meter (67,554 square feet) facility will include a fully automated production line.  The new building, divided into three equal-sized parts, will also be used to craft prototypes and small batch production runs; and contain software, engineering development and business offices.

Similar to Pipistrel in Slovenia, the factory roof will be covered by a photovoltaic system with a 200 kW peak output, the energy stored in 1,000 kWh Kreisel batteries for powering the building and production equipment.  Heat recovered from production machinery helps heat the facility.

Greater than Eight Percent

Dei Welt reports that the three brothers, Johann Centrifugal (also translated as “Gyro”), Jr.; Markus Kreisel, and Phillip Centrifugal, started with an early electric Renault and essentially began “hacking” its systems to improve performance.  In a short time, they have graduated to the point where their claims seem almost boastful, but have auto executives coming to their enterprise to check them out.

The Brothers have electrified a Porsche 911 and Panamera, a Mercedes Sprinter van, and a Skoda SUV.  Green Car Congress reports the Brothers Volkswagen Golf seems to have caught Wolfsburg’s attention though.  “Kreisel has also swapped out VW’s 24.2 kWh battery pack in an e-Golf and replaced it with a 55.7 kWh Kreisel pack, with the weight (330 kg) remaining identical. The range improves from 190 to more than 430 km—i.e., from 120 to 267 miles.”

These weight and range claims are obviously far removed from the production processes that allow an eight-percent advantage over Tesla’s battery system.  One questions how their modest factory will be able to further expand beyond the 8,000 vehicles they anticipate producing per year.  Certainly, it’s a story admired in America – the garage-born breakthrough that challenges the best in the industry.  We wish the Brothers every success.

One Fast Go-Cart

At about the 5:50 mark, you can see the Kreisel’s electric go-cart and its 2014 record run from 0-100 kilometers per hour (62 mph) in 3.1 seconds.

A lecture in German with Pictures in English (for those who want to know more and have a modicum of patience)

The video is a good overview of what the Kreisels are doing that is capturing a great deal of attention.  At about 2:20 the PowerPoint slides show up – all in English.

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Eric Raymond: Skyping from the Sky

Eric Raymond and his wife Irena fly their Sunseeker Duo from the Aeroporto Voghera Rivanazzano near their home in Voghera, Italy.  The Provincia di Pavia provides wonderful architectural and scenic backdrops for their flights, something captured briefly in a video they filmed last year for Skype and Microsoft.  To Eric’s surprise, the commercial was finally released this month.

The Raymonds and their collaborators are part of a larger advertising campaign for Skype and Microsoft, with their high-tech offerings complementing the wireless communications tools and the ad’s graphics.

Eric and Irena, John Lynch, and Jason Rohr perform well for the cameras, but Eric had an extra challenge in the aerial filming.  “I was flying in formation with a Phantom drone!”

Microsoft also featured the team in a tutorial showing how to set up Skype meetings.

Eric explained that, “John Lynch is one of my CAD designers, and master machinist.  He made my nose gear, and is a specialist for propeller molds.

“Jason Rohr is an expert render artist and animator, and another important member of our team,“ who is ”busy with other work also.”

With an authoritative British voice-over, expert filming, and editing, Solar Flight gets a significant media boost.  Congratulations to all.


Alan Soule’ and His Tesla in China

Phileas Fogg used the most advanced means available to a contemporary traveler in Jules Verne’s 1873 novel Around the World in Eighty Days.  That restricted him to steamships and railroads, except for a brief trudge across the Indian jungles on an elephant – the only alternative to fighting one’s way through on foot.  It still took audacious levels of creativity (and the International Dateline) for Fogg and his butler Passepartout to reach the Explorer’s Club in London in the 80 day time limit – thus winning a £20,000 wager with another Club member (about $1.6 million in today’s funds).

Visiting the mothership. Aound the World in 80 eDays teams stop by the factory

Visiting the mothership. Aound the World in 80 eDays teams stop by the factory

John Palmerlee of the CAFE Foundation board reports that a modern-day explorer from Santa Rosa, California is in the 28th day of his race to circumnavigate the globe in his Tesla Model S sedan.  Alan Soule’ has been driving across Spain, flying over the Atlantic, and traversing the North American continent from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Los Angeles, California in an attempt to equal Fogg’s voyage by electric car (and an occasional airlift).

John Palmerlee, another CAFE Board member, reports on Alan’s passage through the bay area on his way to dropping his car off in Los Angeles to have it air freighted to China.  “We saw Alan in Sebastopol when he arrived. There was quite a Chinese news show (haven’t seen it) filmed of him and the Chinese team in the Tahoe area. He is in china now – Guangzhou. I think he is waiting to connect with his car.”

Another type of luminary visits the Hollywood sign. Alan's team meets up with him at various points on his world tour, assists with driving and other tasks

Another type of luminary visits the Hollywood sign. Alan’s team meets up with him at various points on his world tour, assists with driving and other tasks

Indeed, the attempt to reconnect driver and Tesla affected all the teams, and proved that China’s equivalent of the DMV would have driven Phileas Fogg dotty.  Before Chinese officials would release the cars to the teams who had been waiting in Gungzhou, each person had to pass an eye exam, sit through a video on safe driving practices, and fill out enough forms to satisfy any bureaucrat.

Just like home. DMV in China looks just like its American equivalent

Just like home. DMV in China looks just like its American equivalent

With 50 of the 80 days to go, it’s probably understandable that any paperwork delays would be almost excruciating.

Alan’s blog helps to fill in details and provides an exciting travelogue of these modern-day globe-girdlers.


Solar Impulse Word of the Day – Penultimate

Headlines all over the world are sharing the word of the day – penultimate, meaning the next to the last* – in this case the next to last flight for Solar Impulse 2.

The Guardian newspaper explained, “After setting off from Seville on Monday morning, the plane passed through Algerian, Tunisian, Italian and Greek airspace, and flew over the Giza Pyramids before touching down at Cairo airport at around 7.10am (5.10am GMT).

Its support crew cheered as the plane, no heavier than a car but with the wingspan of a Boeing 747, landed, and trailed after it on bicycles.” Which brings up a question – why are the guys on foot outrunning the guys on the expensive electric bicycles?

Certainly, the flight led to some spectacular photo opportunities. Passing over the Gemasolar plant shortly after takeoff from Seville, Andre’ Borschberg looked down on “The first commercial-scale plant in the world to apply central tower receiver and molten salt heat storage technology,” as described by its builder, Torresol Energy.

Solar Impulse over Gemasolar plant outside Seville, Spain

Solar Impulse over Gemasolar plant outside Seville, Spain

With a rated electrical power of 19.9 megawatts, and an expected net electrical production of 110 gigawatt-hours per year, the 185 hectare (457 acre) site formed a spectacular backdrop for the passage of Solar Impulse 2. Net electrical production from its 2,650 heliostats is expected to be 110 GWh per year. The molten salt storage tank permits independent electrical generation for up to 15 hours without any solar feed.

solar impulse 747

The Guardian compared the Solar Impulse to a Boeing 747, with figures suggesting how efficient the jetliner is as a people carrier. Each of the 524 passengers on the 747 requires only .294 of a ton (587 pounds) to carry him or her to a destination – about equivalent to an early Piper Cub or a modern Light Sport Aircraft. Solar Impulse 2 uses its entire 2.3 ton heft to take its pilot on a very slow sightseeing voyage.

Solar Impulse 2 uses no CO2 in generating its power, while the 747, according to The Guardian, adds 101 kilograms (222.2 pounds) of the greenhouse gas to the airshed for every 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) traveled per passenger. Speed differences are noteworthy, though.

SI2's passage over pyramids at Giza drew worldwide admiration. One writer compared the flight to Napoleon's conquest of the country, neglecting to mention that Napoleon's troops had blown the nose off the Sphinx

SI2’s passage over pyramids at Giza drew worldwide admiration. One writer compared the flight to Napoleon’s conquest of the country, neglecting to mention that Napoleon’s troops had blown the nose off the Sphinx

Its passage over the pyramids at Giza drew poetic utterances from around the world, and the landing in Cairo marked the end of Andre’ Borschberg’s last flight on this magic carpet.

*English lesson: (Your editor is an ex-teacher of English.) “Late 17th century: from Latin paenultimus, from paene ‘almost’ + ultimus ‘last,’ on the pattern of ultimate.”  Many people mistakenly think the word is a superlative form of ultimate, as in “the most ultimate.”