Go Fly’s Phase II Winners

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

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

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

The Teams and Their Flying Machines

Team Aeroxo

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

Team DragonAir

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

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

Team Silverwing

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

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

Team Harmony

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

Team Trek Aerospace

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

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

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

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


AutoflightX Returns Tian Yu to Forefront

A Long Developmental Background

Tian Yu headed Yuneec, a pioneering firm in electric flight.  In 2009 his company had several motors and one- and two-seat aircraft flying.  They even received certification from the FAA for the two-seat E430 and shipped it to Oshkosh, where it made its public flying debut at that year’s AirVenture.   At the 2013 AirVenture, Greenwing, an affiliate of Yuneec, fielded two e-Spyders, which pulled a first with several two-electric-airplane formation flights.  Despite being a major supplier of hobby drones and an early developer of powered parachutes, Yuneec seems to have gone into a dormant state, with a new company, AutoFlightX, coming to the forefront.

First shown as the BAT600 concept vehicle in  2017 (There seems to be an interim organization shift at the time), the craft was intended to be either hybrid or pure electric, and would have two forward and two rear coaxial positions for eight lifting propellers, one pusher propeller for flight , and a fixed wing.

Founded in 2018, AutoFlightX hoped to have a flying prototype by the end of last year.  Their current timeline shows they plan on test flights following the recent showing at Aero eFlight Expo in Friedrichshafen, Germany.

V600 as shown at Aero eFlight Expo this week

Renamed the V600, it is now a two-seat VTOL with six lifting propellers and a single pusher propeller to provide forward momentum.  Separate hover and wing flight propulsion systems provide “robustness and reliability,” according to the company.

The V600 can be qualified under EASA’s (European Union Aviation Safety Agency’s) criteria for ultralights under 600 kilograms (1,320 pounds).

The two-place vehicle on display this week at Aero Friedrichshafen 2019 has six electric motors powering as many propellers for vertical lift capability and then another for a seventh push-propeller for forward flight.

Things will change on the production model, though.  “AutoFlightX control systems modeling and simulation specialist Michael Krenmayr… said the final vehicle—not yet publicly revealed—will carry three to five passengers and incorporate changes, such as the position of propellers, to meet EASA certification requirements.”

Krenmayr says testing on the current small model will enable proof of concept and the safety of the systems – in fixed-wing and VTOL mode.  A 2018 announcement explained that AutoFlightX would join VolocopterLilium, and Quantum Systems at the new Oberpfaffenhofen eVTOL test facility.

The V600 Features

The V600 will feature “dissimilar and redundant” system architecture to guarantee maximum safety and highest fault tolerance.  Two independent propulsion systems and large propellers provide efficiency and safety.  The V600 is designed for high speeds, while the “sophisticated flight control systems controlled by ‘intelligent algorithms’ ensure safe and highly automated flying.”

Tian Yu, founder of Yuneec and AutoFlightX, established the new firm with a German team including David Löbl. Chief Technology Officer; and Matthias Bittner, Chief Operating Officer.  We hope his new operation finds success and ready acceptance in this growing competitive field.


Faster, Cleaner AND Less Pricey?

University of Michigan Research Sprinkled with Optimism (or Not)

Can electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing (eVTOL) machines provide the swift crossing of  urban distances at a price that will attract the non-flying public? Can they do so while keeping pollution in check?

Artistic rendering of an electric vertical takeoff and landing taxi cruising through an urban center. (Credit: Dave Brenner/U. of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability.)

A University of Michigan study, funded in part by Ford Motors, concluded that taking a short (depending on definition) trip in an autonomous electric vertical takeoff and landing machine might not only be quicker than a ground-bound journey through gridlock, but might even be less expensive.  These two factors are important if we are clean  the toxic atmosphere that hangs over our major cities, at least partly brought about by the constant transit of personal automobiles, public buses, and large trucks.  Another aspect of the study, though, showed that certain trips will be less polluting if taken by conventional automobiles.  This dichotomy comes from the nature of eVTOL flight compared to the distances to be traveled.

Researchers published their findings in the April 9 Nature Communications under the title “Role of flying cars in sustainable mobility.”

Authors included Akshat Kasliwal, Noah J. Furbush, James H. Gawron, James R. McBride, Timothy J. Wallington, Robert D. De Kleine, Hyung Chul Kim and  Gregory A. Keoleian.

The full text is available, and will answer a lot of questions while raising others.  Interestingly, while the paper highlights eVTOL  technology, cited work by David Ullman and Vince Homer features their more conventional but ultra Short Takeoff and Landing (CSTOL) researches.  The paper also uses material from Alex Stoll at Joby, where their S4 falls into the Uber eVTOL guidelines.

VTOL GHG emissions over a range of trip distances. The GHG emission results for a single-occupant VTOL are broken out by the hover and cruise phases over trip distances from 5 to 250 km. The climb phase is modeled as part of cruise. Furthermore, the takeoff and landing hover phases are combined for simplicity and the powerless descent phase is omitted, as it is assumed to have zero emissions. See the Methods section for details


GHG emissions normalized by vehicle-kilometers traveled. The GHG emission results for single-occupant VTOLs and ground-based vehicles (ICEV and BEV) are normalized by vehicle-kilometers traveled (VKT). This illustrates the impact of amortizing the fixed burden from the hover phase over longer distances. The VTOL GHG emissions break even with the ICEV at 35 km


Travel-time comparison. Travel-time results for the VTOL and ground-based vehicles (ICEV and BEV) are provided as a function of travel distance. Uncertainty bars show the impact of varying the assumptions for wind speed for VTOLs and urban-highway driving split for cars

Blackfly Shifts the Debate

While the UMich-Ford study discusses an Uber-like model of four- and five-passenger Urban Air Mobility (UAM) machines compared to conventional cars, Blackfly makes comparisons between their ultralight machine and more conventionally-sized vehicles.  Of course, even with the need to levitate, Blackfly wins the efficiency and economy prize.  The lesson here might be what Bill Stout (designer of the Ford Trimotor) taught us, “Simplicate and add lightness.”  Particulary surprising its its noise level.  Usually, small propellers turning fast produce high noise levels.  This would be an aspect of Blackfly worth investigating.

Uber Counts the Cost

At a higher level, according to its IPO (Initial Public Offering) prospectus filed last week, Uber spent $457 million last year “on research and development of autonomous vehicles, flying cars (known as eVTOLs) and other ‘technology programs’ and will continue to invest heavily in the futuristic tech even though it expects to rely on human drivers for years to come.”  Coming years will see whether their findings and the U of Michigan’s match and come to fruition.

Uber’s S-1 details what investors can expect as the company works with their money.  They’ve spent one-third of their R&D budget on automated systems, but admit they will be working in “hybrid autonomy” for several years until human drivers (and presumably pilots) can be replaced entirely.  This caution may stem from last year’s fatal collision between an Uber Volvo and a local cyclist.

Watch for Tricky Headlines

Heavy interest from “flying cars” and autonomy will generate fascination and fear, judging from the headlines for essentially the same reporting of the research paper noted above.  How we get rid of the term “flying cars” and references to the Jetson’s is another matter.

Ford, UMich study shows flying cars are both faster and greener (Fox 2 News, Detroit)

The reality of pollution kills your dream of a flying car
They might make sense for longer trips and taxis, though.  (Engadget.com)

Researchers at Ann Arbor’s U-M, Dearborn’s Ford: Flying Cars Not Sustainable for Short Distances (Detroit Business News)

How flying cars could help in the fight against climate change (LA Times)

Flying cars wouldn’t just save time — they could help the environment, study says (News Channel 5, Nashville)

These are all news sources reporting on the same University of Michigan study, remember.


UMass Lowell Puts Hydrogen in a Canister

One problem with recharging electric vehicles is finding a charging station on the road.  Electric vehicle makers provide GPS clues on their moving map displays, and electric pilots will doubtless have markers for fields with appropriate facilities for our future E-flyers.  Researchers at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell may have done an end run around that problem, though.

Dr. David Ryan (right) with a graduate student working on capsulizing hydrogen

Their “new technology uses water, carbon dioxide and the metal cobalt to produce hydrogen gas on demand at a relatively low temperature and pressure.”  The hydrogen produced goes directly to a fuel cell which generates electricity and powers the EV’s motor, rechargeable battery and headlights.  When the canister that contains the H2 is empty, the driver can swap it with a “full” one.

The researchers haven’t shared a great number of details, but we can guess the volume and weight of the canisters based on similar applications on the Pipistrel H4 and e-Genius, the much tested first and second-place winners, respectively, of the 2011 Green Flight Challenge.

What’s Gone Before

Asia Pacific Fuel Cell Technologies (APFCT), a Taiwanese scooter manufacturer, featured swappable H2 canisters for its scooters, and even demonstrated a 1,000 kilometer (620-mile) drive around the island on one weekend in 2010.

As noted, the Green Flight Challenge winners started as a hydrogen-fueled craft in the case of e-Genius, and the Pipistrel G4 converted to H2 power following the contest and became the HY4.

As annotated on the video, the 1,500-kilogram (3,300-pound) HY4 requires two large pressurized containers to hold two nine-kilogram (19.8-pound)  helpings of hydrogen which give the craft its 800- to 1,500-kilometer (496-mile to 930-mile) range.  The Green Flight Challenge required a 200-mile trip around a 100-mile course with a demonstrated motor run of 45 minutes following the flight.  This would be the planned range plus an FAA-mandated reserve for the batteries.  Both winners managed that readily, but had little energy left past that test.

Hydrogen power promises greater range for a small weight, but the containment and conversion of H2 to electricity adds some weight and complexity.  Hydrogenius, the originally-planned form of e-Genius, would have used 4.2 kilograms (9.24 pounds) of hydrogen  to fly two passengers 750 kilometers at a cruising speed of 120 kilometers per hour (74.4 mph).

Lange Antares E-1 DLR-H2 in flight. Fuel cell and hydrogen containment are fairly bulky

Lange Aircraft has built two different hydrogen-powered craft, the DLR-H2 (which powers one electric motor via a fuel cell and hydrogen) and the E2, which will fly later this year.  That uses 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of methanol to power its six fuel cell, six motor power system.  Any greenhouse gas tendencies in the methanol are reduced to a water vapor exhaust.

How This Approach Differs

Most fuel-cell-powered vehicles have to stop for fuel from time-to-time.  With only 30 hydrogen stations in the Los Angeles area and precious few sprinkled around the rest of the U. S., people won’t be taking their hydrogen vehicles for long road trips or flights.  The infrastructure is not there yet to allow that.  By putting the fuel in canisters that can be swapped, much like the Taiwanese scooters, the only infrastructure necessary is a willing shipping firm.

Canisters contain water, carbon dioxide and cobalt metal particles with surface nanostructures billionths of meters in size to produce hydrogen gas on demand at a relatively low temperature and pressure.

Spent canisters are sent to a nearby processing center where the oxidized cobalt is rejuvenated and the canister made ready for another trip.  Chemistry Prof. David Ryan explains, “This process doesn’t store any hydrogen gas, so it’s safe and poses no transportation issues, greatly minimizing the possibility of a fire or explosion.”  The technology generates hydrogen that is more than 95 percent pure, he added.   “Hydrogen burns completely clean; it produces no carbon dioxide, only water. And, you don’t have to burn hydrogen to generate electricity. Hydrogen can be used in fuel cells, in which it combines with oxygen from the air to produce electricity at up to 85 percent efficiency.”

Working with Ryan are Ph.D. candidates in chemistry Ahmed Jawhari, Kehley Davies and Elizabeth Farrell; and Colleen Ahern, an undergraduate chemical engineering major and Honors College student.

With efficiency, safety and ease of use prime factors in this innovation, we can only hope that its volumetric efficiency is such that is can fit in reasonably-sized vehicles.  There seem to be enough other reasons for it to be successful.


Tiny Pieces Form Morphing Wing

MIT and NASA have constructed several aircraft wings using tiny, identical pieces bolted together in a highly flexible, deform-able structure.  At that, the wing is light, strong, and capable of “morphing” in ways that enable slower landing speeds, faster rates of climb, and high maneuverability.

A Lot like Fractals

Sierpinski fractal. As we zoom in, we see the repetition of ever smaller, identical images, much like repeated patterns in NASA/MIT’s structural design

This type of assembly is much like fractals, repeated forms that assemble into larger forms that become enlarged examples of the smaller ones.  These forms are part of the natural world, so the mimicry in the morphing wing can very mach be said to be an organic design.

New way of fabricating aircraft wings could enable radical new designs, such as this concept, which could be more efficient for some applications. Credit: Eli Gershenfeld, NASA Ames Research Center

The tiny pieces comprise thousands of miniature triangles “matchstick-like struts,” according to David L. Chandler at the MIT News Office.  The tiny subassemblies were bolted together by hand  to form a lattice-like framework, and are then covered with a thin polymer film of the same material as the framework.  Future plans call for robot assembly to speed up construction.

Small elements are bolted together. Identical nature of components should make manufacture and assembly easy for robots

As Chandler writes, “The result is a wing that is much lighter, and thus much more energy efficient, than those with conventional designs, whether made from metal or composites, the researchers say. Because the structure, comprising thousands of tiny triangles of matchstick-like struts, is composed mostly of empty space, it forms a mechanical ‘metamaterial’ that combines the structural stiffness of a rubber-like polymer and the extreme lightness and low density of an aerogel.”

The new wing was tested in a NASA Langley wind tunnel and described in the journal Smart Materials and Structures, co-authored by research engineer Nicholas Cramer at NASA Ames in California, MIT alumnus Kenneth Cheung (now also at NASA Ames) and Benjamin Jenett, a graduate student at MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, as well as eight others.  The abstract contains this intriguing concept: “We demonstrate an example application experiment using two building block types for the primary structure of a 4.27 m wingspan aircraft, where we spatially program elastic shape morphing to increase aerodynamic efficiency and improve roll control authority, demonstrated with full-scale wind tunnel testing.”

Large blended wing body concept being assembled by robots in future factory

MIT adds, “Jenett explains that for each of the phases of a flight—takeoff and landing, cruising, maneuvering and so on—each has its own, different set of optimal wing parameters, so a conventional wing is necessarily a compromise that is not optimized for any of these, and therefore sacrifices efficiency. A wing that is constantly deformable could provide a much better approximation of the best configuration for each stage.”

Besides offering greater flexibility in the manufacturing of future aircraft, this construction technique could find favor with architects and others needing lightweight, strong buildings.


First Commercial Drone Medical Delivery

Medicine, STAT!

Matternet is a U. S.-based company promoting its mission to, “Make access to goods as frictionless and universal as access to information.  Our products enable organizations around the world to build and operate drone logistics networks for transporting goods on demand, through the air, at a fraction of the time, cost and energy of any other transportation method used today. “ On March 27, it announced a collaboration with United Parcel Service (UPS) that delivered the first commercial medical payload at the WakeMed medical facility in North Carolina.

Other non-commercial operations by Zipline, operating in Rwanda and Gambia; and  Swoop Aero, Ltd. and Wingcopter delivering vaccines in the South Pacific, are bringing “last mile” delivery of medical goods and services to remote locations.

The Hustle, an on-line news source (we go to no ends to find the latest intelligence), reports, “By working closely with regulators, UPS became the first fully operational, revenue-generating drone delivery service, beating competitors including Amazon, FedEx, and Uber that have tested delivery drones.”

UPS and Matternet can reduce “sensitive medical deliveries (such as lifesaving organs or blood)” from 30 minutes in traffic to three minutes, an extremely crucial 27-minute saving in emergency situations.

This kind of  necessary function certainly over-rides the need to get your DVDs from Amazon or your pizza from Dominos, both entities seeking OKs for drone delivery.  10 medical deliveries a day will help WakeMed  patients survive more than a sudden pepperoni Jones.  UPS might even increase the frequency of flights at WakeMed.  This gets a bit complicated because approvals have to come from the FAA and the  North Carolina Department of Transportation.

A Matter of Matternet

Matternet started with the idea of providing “last mile” delivery of medical supplies in Africa, but added missions for the Swiss Postal Service and permanent healthcare operations in Switzerland.  Now that the systems are well tested,  Boeing ‘s Horizon X has helped add $16 million in funding for Matternet’s expansion in the U. S. and globally.  Sony’s Innovation Fund, the Swiss Post and Levitate Capital were

Brian Schettler, managing director of Boeing HorizonX Ventures explains, “Between the company’s success in Switzerland and being selected by the FAA to test unmanned aerial networks in the U.S., we are excited to work together to reimagine how the world connects and shape the next generation of transportation solutions.”

Matternet drone delivers coffee to Mercedes rooftop in Swiss demonstration two years ago

Matternet’s  founder and CEO Andreas Raptopoulos echoes the sentiment.  “We are excited to partner with Boeing, the pioneers of safe commercial aviation, to make this new mode of transport mainstream.  . As we expand Matternet’s U.S. and global operations, we will work with Boeing to make next-generation aerial logistics networks a reality and transform our everyday lives.“

Matternet is exploring greater permissions to fly over urban areas and beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), areas showing great confidence in its ability to delivery even the most precious payloads safely.


Kryptonite – As in MARVEL Comics?

Ed Warnock, CEO of the Perlan Project, passed this on from Michael Coates, head of Pipistrel USA.  Despite its celebrated author and totally credible source, the following press release is open to scrutiny and will no doubt receive some rabid criticism.

“Pipistrel ALPHA Electro completes 24 hour flight on a single charge!

“The Pipistrel ALPHA Electro aircraft has successfully smashed the world endurance record for electric aircraft by completing its first 24-hour flight on a single charge!

Pipistrel Alpha Electro on purported record flight

“Pipistrel engineers have recently tested different fuel cells and generator units to supplement the ALPHA Electro’s current 1-hour range.

“Hugh improvements in electrical generation have unfolded with the recent (2016) re-discovery of Kryptonite in Northern Siberia and under the stepped Pyramid in Egypt.

“Kryptonite in its purest form is just amazing, a true MARVEL producing almost unlimited amounts of perfect DC energy, ideal for powering an electric aircraft noted a leading Pipistrel engineer, Prof D.C. Currant.

“Prof Currant explains, that less than 1 teaspoon of kryptonite mixed with a catalyst of egg whites and Coke Zero can product almost unlimited energy with the only by- product being a bad tasting, dark brown, scrambled egg type mix that can be fed to animals (and men) to keep them warm in winter.

“Guinness book of world record officials were in attendance for this world first event and described this as a ‘giant leap for mankind’ moment!

“More information will follow….”

In Less Controversial Pipistrel News….

Pipistrel (for real)) announced completion of the first of five charging stations installed in the United States.  Completed at Compton Airport near Los Angeles, California, the SkyCharge station can charge two electric aircraft at the same time.

Tomorrow Aeronautical Museum’s Alpha Electros and charger stations

The aircraft are owned by Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum based on the field, “…And are used to introduce socially disadvantaged youth to the aviation industry with the potential pathway to future employment in the airline industries and beyond.”

So far, Alpha Electros are limited to one-hour cross-country flights, but with chargers coming soon to Reedley Municipal Airport (032), William Robert Johnston Municipal Airport in Mendota (M90), Fresno Chandler Executive Airport (KFCH), and Fresno Yosemite International Airport (KFAT), there will be plenty to see in the Los Angeles Basin.  Pipistrels will fly one hour, recharge for an hour, and continue on to another destination.

Aircraft are owned by Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum based on the Compton Airport and part of a network working to provide aviation opportunities to disadvantaged youth in the region.

Not an April Fool’s Joke

Ending Pipistrel’s press release on the charging stations, this happy quirk in electric flight became known.

“Electric aircraft, whilst still in their infancy are definitely the way forward for the light aviation training and local scenic flights industry especially in noise sensitive areas.

“Recent noise testing of the Pipistrel ALPHA Electro aircraft has validated that during a 500 feet fly over the aircraft cannot be heard above ambient noise levels.

“An interesting ‘problem’ which has recently been highlighted is that we can’t produce a noise certificate for an aircraft that can’t effectively be tested, this is causing some head scratching with CAA’s around the globe as they amend the regulations for what is, an aircraft that doesn’t need a noise certificate.”


A seaplane fleet is preparing to convert its fleet to all-electric operation, which will make it the first commercial electric airline.

Harbour Air, a seaplane operator based in Vancouver, B. C. is partnering with MagniX, an Australian electric motor manufacturer with offices in Seattle, Washington.  You may see Harbour’s DeHavilland Beavers, Otters and Twin Otters lifting off from or landing on  Lake Union when you drive by on the I-5.

A Harbour Air Beaver with the “traditional” R-985 engine on its snub nose. There are 10 of these classic craft in Harbour Air’s inventory

Harbour Air flies “more than 30 seaplanes” on 12 routes that carry more than a half-million passengers on 30,000 commercial flights a year.  The smallest craft they fly, the DHC-2 Beaver, carries six and burns about 20 gallons per hour of 100 low lead fuel – which now costs from just under $5.00 to over $7.00 in the Seattle region.  Obviously, fuel costs and maintenance on an engine (on the Beaver) that has not been built since 1953 must be of concern to operators.

MagniX is Zero Emissions

MagniX CEO Roei Ganzarski hopes to conduct flight tests of an electric Beaver later this year, which would put Harbour Air ahead of Boeing’s Zunum electric airliner.  In fairness, Zunum is designing and building a “clean sheet” aircraft and hybrid power system. Harbour Air has existing airframes, some of which  have already been converted to turbine power – a configuration that emulates what the same airplanes will look like with electric motors in the nose.

Twin Otter with turbine engine and long nose typical with these lighter engines

The Pratt & Whitney R-985 (985 cubic inch displacement) engine was designed only two years after Lindbergh made his flight from New York to Paris, and was used on several single- and twin-engine aircraft of  the 1930’s and ‘40’s.  Over 39,000 were built, so there is a reasonable inventory of these reliable power plants.  Many have been replaced by modern turbines such as the PT-6, which ups horsepower from 450 to 720.  None of Harbour Air’s 10 Beavers have been converted, though, and will now take the leap to the next wave – electric technology.

MagniX 500 motor being tested on nose of Cessna Caravan. Harbour Air has one in its fleet

MagniX motors are an interesting open-frame unit that combines light weight with extreme power – 750 hp in the motors destined for Harbour Air.  Since they weight 120 kilograms or 265 pounds, they weigh 375 pounds  (170 kilograms) less than the R-985 while putting out 300 more horsepower.  eBeavers should provide great performance, especially since short routes will allow smaller battery packs.

An airline that claims to be the first to be carbon neutral, Harbour Air will become the first emission-free carrier.  Greg McDougall, founder and CEO, talks up the company’s accomplishments.  “Harbour Air first demonstrated its commitment to sustainability by becoming the first fully carbon-neutral airline in North America in 2007, through the purchase of carbon offsets. Through our commitment to making a positive impact on people’s lives, the communities where we operate and the environment, we are once again pushing the boundaries of aviation by becoming the first aircraft to be powered by electric propulsion. We are excited to bring commercial electric aviation to the Pacific Northwest, turning our seaplanes into ePlanes.”

Your editor is excited, too, looking forward to grabbing a seat on an early Seattle sightseeing flight on an eBeaver.


Superionic Batteries – Are We There Yet?

Tohoku University, near the northern Japanese city of Sendai, finds, in a recent paper, “…The development of complex hydride solid electrolytes that exhibit high ionic conductivity at room temperature will be a revolutionary breakthrough for all-solid-state batteries employing a lithium metal anode.”  Researchers at the University lists the potential energy density for a battery using these so-called “superionic” materials as greater than 2,500 Watt-hours per kilogram “at a high current density of 5,016 miliAmps per gram.   This energy density would result in the fabled 10X battery – ten times the energy density of a conventional lithium-ion battery – that has been the subject of international research for the last decade.

Tohoku’s press release states, “Scientists from Tohoku University and the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization have developed a new complex hydride lithium superionic conductor that could result in all-solid-state batteries with the highest energy density to date:”  Led by Sangryun Kim from the Institute of Material Research (IMR) and Shin-ichi Orimo from the Advanced Institute for Materials Research (AIMR), the study looked for such conductors based on complex hydrides (anions of hydrogen).  this is a difficult search, because the potential high energy density of these materials is balanced by the normal instability of the hydrides.

High-energy-density all-solid-state lithium metal batteries. a Schematic illustration of the prepared all-solid-state batteries. S, Li/0.7Li(CB9H10)–0.3Li(CB11H12), and lithium metal were used as the cathodes, solid electrolytes, and anodes, respectively. b Voltage profiles for a rate of 0.03 C (50.2 mA g−1) at 25 °C during the first two cycles. c Discharge–charge profiles at 0.03, 0.05, 0.1, 0.3, and 1 C after an initial cycle at 25 °C. d Capacity retention as a function of current density. e, f Cycling performances of discharge capacity and coulombic efficiency (e) for a rate of 1 C at 25 °C and (f) for a discharging rate of 3 C and a charging rate of 1 C at 50 °C

The researchers’ paper, “A complex hydride lithium superionic conductor for high-energy-density all-solid-state lithium metal batteries,” was published in Nature Communications on March 6, 2019.  The authors, Sangryun KimHiroyuki OguchiNaoki ToyamaToyoto SatoShigeyuki TakagiToshiya OtomoDorai ArunkumarNaoaki KuwataJunichi Kawamura and Shin-ichi Orimo, were able to overcome the high ion transfer resistance found in using solid electrolytes with lithium metal anodes.

The paper is filled with “howevers,” noting the many instances of positive outcomes countered by negative areas of resistance.   The high energy density possible with superionic conductors was offset by the instability of the solid electrolyte against lithium metal.  As the solid electrolyte reaches what we call “room temperatures” it tends to lose contact with the anode and reduce reactivity because the electrolyte is filled with vacancy-rich disordered cation sublattices .   Researchers managed to tame this with a finer granularity in the material that enables full contact.

The abstract ends on a promising note: “’We expect that this development will not only inspire future efforts to find lithium superionic conductors based on complex hydrides, but also open up a new trend in the field of solid electrolyte materials that may lead to the development of high-energy-density electrochemical devices,’  said Sangryun Kim of Shin-ichi Orimo’s research group at Tohoku University

Think of a 200-pound battery slimming down to 20 pounds for the same output. Range and  endurance would be Tesla-like for electric and hybrid aircraft, and following the old rule to two pounds of structure for every pound of power plant for fossil-fuel aircraft, could lead to more efficient airframes.

At the laboratory stage now, this would seem to be investment bait for venturesome venture capitalists.


A Solar Airport Profits from Vegetables

We’ve covered several airports that have found ways to make themselves environmentally friendly, including recycling the vast amounts of waste left by passengers, and installing solar panels to help run the site.

Recently honored by the United Nations. ”Cochin International Airport Limited (CIAL) has been selected for the Champion of Earth Prize -2018, the highest environmental honor instituted by United Nations. CIAL is honored for its successful execution of one of the revolutionary ideas of using solar energy which made Cochin  Airport a first in the world fully powered by it.”

Besides generating 40 megawatts of electricity from its solar panels at 2018 levels, the airport grows organic vegetables beneath those panels.  To ensure optimum land use, “CIAL has successfully implemented organic farming of vegetables in area[s] between solar panels. The airport stands at fourth in the country in terms of international traffic and seventh in total traffic has handled ten million passengers in 2017-18.”

V.J.Kurian, Managing Director for CIAL, has an integrated concept that provides power for airport services and even feeds the 8,000 employees in diverse occupations who serve the traveling public and  grow the organic produce.  Kurian explains the overall program results in annual cost savings of Rs. 40 Crore to the airport.  As explained in Answers.com,  a crore is not an amount of money, but an Indian counting method, like counting things in scores or dozens.  1 Crore refers to 10,000,000, so 40 Crore = 400,000,000 million Indian Rupee (INR), or about $5,783,689.60 as of March 24 2019.

Kurian adds, “We showed the world that big infrastructure projects like [Cochin] Airport can be put into operation fully using alternative energy sources.”  . This will also avoid CO2 emissions by more than 9 lakh metric tons over the next 25 years, which is equivalent ot  planting 90 lakh trees or not driving 2,400 million miles “.  (Lahk is another unit in Indian counting, one lakh equal to 150,000.  90 lakh trees would be 13,500,000 trees –a  substantial number.)

Feeding the airport’s workers from the under-solar-panel gardens while having enough food left to sell to incoming passengers and generating all the power necessary to operate a large airport should give managers worldwide impetus to examine this new option.

If this were augmented with electric taxiing systems, such as those developed by Safran and L3, could further use solar-generated, scalable electric supplies to offset the need for expanded grids and added fuel burdens.


Growing plants next to and under the solar panels at the airport boosts overall productivity

Inverse.com reports that, “It’s the latest example of how panels can work to help crops grow, a field known as “agrophotovoltaics.” Researchers from Germany’s University of Hohenheim ran an experiment in 2017 where they placed 720 solar panels in scaffolds above a series of crops. The crops tended to grow slower, with potatoes around 18 percent slower, but the yields were still profitable, the panels offset the electricity costs, and the setup increased land use efficiency by 60 percent:”

Profits should increase in the future as the cost of solar panels decrease.  For now, Cochin Airport and its leadership are showing a way to make airports a viable part of the communities they serve.