The town of Ulm, Germany holds an annual Berblinger Prize competition to honor the memory of the Little Tailor of Ulm, Albrecht Berblinger, who attempted to fly an early hang glider across the Danube in 1811. This 200th anniversary year has been marked by special celebrations, including an ambitious aerial challenge for “green” aircraft.
36 applicants were pared to 24 participants in the actual flight competition, and on April 15, a mere 13 started on the flight between Friedrichshafen and Ulm and return. Eight were able to complete the exercise, according to contest officials. The rest were unable to compete or finish, “due to insufficient financial backing, technical difficulties or the absence of the appropriate flying licenses the remaining competitors were not able to take part in the practical phase of the competition.”
Judging criteria overseen by an “independent jury comprising experts from the aerospace industry, representatives of universities and research institutes, aviation historians and representatives of the town of Ulm,” included “innovation, environmental friendliness, flight performance and practicality.”
With two competitors earning equal high marks, the Lange Antares 20 E and Eric Raymond’s Sunseeker II were each awarded 45,000 Euros ($64,800) and Manfred Ruhmer’s Swift light Electric hang glider was given a 10,000 Euro ($14,400) special prize. This enabled the jury to honor “three development projects with totally different technical characteristics.”
The Berblinger Prize press release gives recognition to Lange for, “not only the concept of a self-launching, high performance motor glider, certified according to the strict European aviation standards, but also acknowledges Axel Lange himself, pioneer of electric propulsion systems for motor gliders, who, despite many setbacks and in the spirit of Berblinger, did not abandon his aims and ambitions.”
Flown by Stefan Senger, the Antares 20 E is a 20-meter, self-launching sailplane powered by a 42 kilowatt (56.3 horsepower) motor. Judges noted, “It is the only aircraft with this type of propulsion that fulfils the strict EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) certification requirements. It uses lithium-ion-batteries that allow powered flight for more than one hour. The batteries are quickly re-chargeable and have a life-expectancy of about 20 years or 3,000 charge cycles in normal gliding operations. About 70 of these gliders have already been sold and delivered. After initial problems with this technology it is now regarded as technically mature.”
The Berblinger Prize jury gave Raymond similar plaudits. “The prize to Eric Raymond marks a further award in recognition of the contributions of this pioneer of solar flight towards the global development of purely solar powered aircraft .This ranks him alongside such prominent names as Paul MacCready, Günther Rochelt and Prof. Voith-Nitschmann´s team at the University of Stuttgart , winner of the Berblinger Prize in 1996. In the last 20 years, the one-seater Sunseeker II, with a wing span of 15 meters (49.2 feet), has proven to be a suitable test vehicle for solar cells. The concept of the two seater Sunseeker Duo, also shown at the AERO in Friedrichshafen by Eric Raymond, heralds the next generation of solar powered aircraft.”
The Swift-light Electric belongs to the low-budget, ultra light sports class. The purchase price is approximately 30.000 Euros and allows a wide range of enthusiasts to enjoy a pleasurable flight without notable noise pollution. The battery can be charged within 15 minutes, making numerous flights per day possible. Without thermics, the endurance is 20 to 30 minutes. The innovative propulsion concept is based on that of Dr. Werner Eck, a pioneer of electric propulsion for ultra light aircraft. The award to Manfred Ruhmer for his Swift-light Electric is a public acknowledgment of the efforts of the ultra light aviation industry towards developing environmentally friendly propulsion systems. The 10 Kilowatt motor (13.4 horsepower) weighs only 3.7 kilogrammes (8.14 pounds).
“If the energy consumption of this prize winner is converted into diesel, then it would lie somewhere between zero and 0.38 litres/100 kilometres (619 miles per gallon!) of flight,” according to Berblinger Prize officials.
Electric flight gained a great deal of publicity since holding the Berblinger competition at AERO gave over 34,000 attendees a chance to see true state-of-the-art technology. Beyond this immediate recognition, the city of Ulm plans “numerous events” in the coming month, all honoring the Little Tailor and his courageous flight 200 years ago.