Peter Sripol is a high-energy model-airplane tester who put a twin-motor electric biplane together out of Home Depot/Lowes parts and flew it successfully.  That was a back of the envelope design that flew nonetheless.

Peter did something a little more professional for his second go-round, crafting some professional-looking drawings.  Don’t look for any drawings for the earlier machine, he cautions, explaining there are none  He also wanted a pair of larger, slower turning propellers to move a large volume of air more slowly than the Rotomax 150s installed on the biplane.  He notes he’s looking for a lower kV (turns per Volt input).

Peter works with Flite Test, a model airplane outfit seemingly willing to try anything.  That includes the giant cardboard twin-motored craft shown above.

He apologizes for not being further along on the project, but notes he took time out to build a tank(!) for a video-game client.  Let this be a rebuke to those who claim they don’t have enough tools in their workshops.  Peter’s neighbors might be excused for being a bit nervous about his Fourth of July celebration.

He gets the airplane outside, only to speculate on whether the gear is strong enough for even his light pilot weight.  In literary criticism, we’d identify this as foreshadowing, a device for letting the reader or viewer know something important’s going to happen later in the narrative.

His third video begins with the collapse of his landing gear, with a flashback to show the airplane’s wing construction and a lead-in to how this sad event came to be.

Flite Fest 2018

Here, we get a close-up of the motor, a Tiger Motor (“The Safest Propulsion System”) U15 made in China and rated at 100 rpm per Volt.  Weighing only 3.4 pounds it puts out 77 pounds of thrust with a 40″ prop.  It cranks that out at 3,543 rpm at around 60 Volts and 115 Amps if my math is correct.  The motors are $689 each and the props come as a clockwise/counterclockwise set for $448.  Peter may beat your editor on cheapness.  The company doesn’t seem to have a 200 Amp ESC, though, so it must be another firm’s controller involved.

We’re looking forward to Peter getting his Mark 2 back on an improved gear and flying safely.  His example shows that enthusiasm, hard work and a wildly optimistic outlook can accomplish almost anything.


Arrive at Oshkosh Early – Get an Education

The CAFE Foundation will hold its annual conference on Saturday, July 21 from 12:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, July 22 from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  All activities will be held in the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Alumni Welcome and Conference Center.

The Electric Aircraft Symposium 2018, The Future of Flight: Electric Aviation, Technologies and Opportunities divides speakers between technical and economic topics, with a nod toward funding new projects.

Yolanka Wulff, the Director of Communications and Public Affairs for Ampaire, and Executive Director for the CAFE Foundation has organized this assemblage of speakers with sponsorship by Ampaire.

Ampaire Tailwind. The company founer and CEO will be at EAS 2018

Technically Speaking

On technical matters, Gilles Rossenberger, who headed the industrial design for manufacturing Airbus’ e-Fan, will talk about his leadership in Faraday Aerospace, described on his Linked In page as, “…Designing a family of Certified Electric Propulsion Systems (EPS) dedicated to a large range of Electric Aircraft (from 50 kW to 500 kW).”

George Bye, now test flying his Sun Flyer 2, will discuss the future for electric and solar-powered aviation.  Kevin Noertker, Co-Founder and CEO of Ampaire, will discuss his cutting edge commuter craft.  Michael Friend, retired Chief Engineer for Future Platforms with Boeing Commercial Airplanes, will show his well-developed ideas for hybrid propulsion platforms, among other things.

Joshua Portlock, Founder and Chairman, of Electro.Aero Pty Ltd. will talk about his development of personal flying platforms, the first of which he and partner Robert Beluga built in one week.  Their second is a second-round winner in Boeing’s GoFly competition.

One of 10 GoFly Phase 2 winners, Trek Aerospace FK2 is an ongoing development

Omer Bar-Yohay, Co-Founder and CEO of Eviation, an Israel-based firm working on a long-range electric business cruiser, will explain how he has crafted a design around existing battery technology.

Carl Dietrich, Co-Founder and CTO of Terrafugia, will discuss his firm’s recent decision to transform their Transition to hybrid power for ground travel, and doubtless his work with Uber Elevate.

Todd Hodges, NASA, has been instrumental in vertical flight development and is well known for his contributions to projects such as Mark Moore’s Puffin and the 40 years of experience with NASA Langley.  His expertise in vertical lift should prove enlightening.

Ed Lovelace is Senior Technical Fellow in high-power electrical systems with Aurora Flight Sciences (now merged with Boeing) and a technology advisory board member with XL Fleet Electrification and Zunum Aero.  His broad spectrum of applications may give new insights.

Boris Popov, Founder and CEO of BRS Aerospace, will report on how his ballistic parachutes save lives and enable a non-disastrous letdown when all else fails.

Managing a Complex New Technology

EAS 2018 will include talks on making sure all this innovative technology finds its way to a legislative and commercial footing that ensures its success.  Tom Gunnarson, Lead of Regulatory Affairs at Kitty Hawk, for instance, will bring his experience leading FAA certification of electric aircraft to bear on the discussion.  Gregory Bowles, Vice President, Global Innovation & Policy for the General Aviation Manufacturer’s Association (GAMA), will fill in the industry perspective.

Adam Warmoth, Vehicle Requirements Lead for Uber Elevate, will explain how the mobility firm will influence what we see overhead.  Stan Ross, Founder and President of EFX Applied Technology, will share his experiences in helping guide AeroInnovate, with its goal “to facilitate the alignment of passionate, successful investors and industry leaders with the best aviation-related opportunities in the world.”  Following in areas of safety and certification, Luciano Serra, Director of both for magniX will explain his role in this new aircraft motor company.

Magni 250 motor shows innovative construction

Peter Shannon, Managing Director of Levitate Capital, will explain how to float that loan, perhaps, for your own levitation experience.

Willi Tacke, Flying Pages GmbH/e-flight-expo Founder and CEO, will bring the latest in European Asian electric flight developments.  Kenneth I. Swartz, Director & Senior Aerospace Marketing Communications Strategist for Aeromedia Communications, will explain how to get your message out, as he done in over 1,000 published articles.

Conference Registration Package

The conference hours are Saturday, July 21, 12:30 to 7:30, and Sunday, July 22, 7:00 am to 4:00 pm. Saturday presentations begin at 1:00 pm.

Your registration includes all of the sessions on Saturday and Sunday, a networking reception Saturday night with hors-d’oeuvres and no-host bar, and breakfast and lunch on Sunday.

The Saturday night reception will be offered in the lobby between 5:30 and 7:30 pm. This is an excellent opportunity to continue conversations you began during the daytime sessions while enjoying hors d’oeuvres and drinks.

Sunday breakfast will be served between 7:00 and 8:00 am, and lunch will be served between 12:00 and 1:00 pm.

You have until July 21 to benefit from a discount price for the event.

Location and Lodging

Events will take place here.

For assistance, please contact Yolanka Wulff, CAFE Foundation Executive Director, at or (206) 660-8498.

AeroInnovate Helps Kick Off First Day

To continue your education, Plane and Pilot Magazine reports, “EAA AirVenture will kick off Day One with a roundtable discussion called ‘Funding Your Dream,’ which will feature a number of aviation-tech industry figures who will share their stories about how they got ‘from idea to market.’ Hosting the panel will be AeroInnovate, which is a company known in the tech world as an ‘accelerator,’ that is, a company that helps get great ideas moving and moving fast.”

“Starting at 4:00 p.m. The discussion takes place on Monday, July 23rd; at the Aviation Gateway Park Forum’s tent at 4 p.m. Participating will be moderator Tom Perkowski, co-founder of Eagle Cap Software, an AeroInnovate alumnus company; and panelists Tom Burden, CEO of Grypmat, and Eric Bartsch, COO of VerdeGo Aero. The investors will be Martha Cosgrove, an investment analyst at Boeing HorizonX and Rich Leamon of Space Angels.

“Should be a riveting discussion of the state of GA startup funding whether you’re in the market for venture capital or not. And who knows, maybe the conversation will get you in the mood to dust off that great idea and finally get if flying, financially, that is, not aerodynamically.”

For more details, go to


Just for Openers – BlackFly

A Seven-Year Stealth Project

Opener doesn’t sound like the name of an airplane company, and BlackFly doesn’t sound like a very charming name for an airplane.  Maybe that’s how the developers of an eight-motor personal flying machine got away with it for so long.

Beth Stanton, who writes wonderful articles about futuristic projects for the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Sport Aviation magazine, alerted your editor about a project that sneaked under the radar for the past seven years.

The airplane looks a bit like a single-seat Vahana, Airbus’s two-seat air taxi currently under test in eastern Oregon.  Where Vahana is just beginning flight tests, BlackFly has over 12,000 aerial miles carrying a payload in 1,400 flights.  BlackFly has gone through 40,000 cycles on its power system, equivalent to 25 circumnavigations of the earth, according to the company.

Four generations of BlackFly, showing its evolution over the last seven years

Three fail-safe flight control systems manage redundant motors, elevens, and batteries.  Batteries are arranged in a distributed, isolated system.

Pilots are constrained and protected from doing anything too silly.  Software provides control limits within the design’s flight envelope and the potential to remain within (or outside) designated geofences.  If one gets into trouble, a return-to-home button, soft landing assistance, a “low-power glide mode,” and ballistic parachute recovery can save the day.

Its outrunner-type motors were apparently developed by Marcus Leng, Opener’s founder and CEO.  How are they significantly different or better than commercial off-the-shelf items found at hobby shops?

A Worthwhile TV Report

Two reporters do a knowledgeable and professional job of presenting the machine and the case for it.  John Blackstone, a long-time technology reporter for CBS and anchor Reena Ninan give the background and some responsible assessments of what the team at Opener has accomplished.  They even visit the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, California – one of your editor’s favorite places.  It’s nice to see a non-judgemental, sober review of this emerging technology.

Note Blackstone’s startle reaction when the motor fires up, and the reading which shows 108 pounds of thrust (your editor’s guess as to what is being measured).

A Board of Adventurers

Marcus Leng, the founder and CEO of Openers, earned a recreational pilot’s license when he was 18.  He graduated from the University of Toronto in 1983 with a mechanical engineering degree and worked until 1986 in multinational corporations.  Forbes quotes him as having big plans.  “Opener is re-energizing the art of flight with a safe and affordable flying vehicle that can free its operators from the everyday restrictions of ground transportation.”

Alan Eustace did more than intellectualize as a Senior Vice President at Google – he actualized the world’s highest parachute jump.  A great deal like BlackFly, his jump equipment was minimalist, just him in a special space suit with all necessary life support equipment and a release mechanism to separate him from the large balloon that carried him aloft.

Ed Lu, advisor to the project, “flew on two Space Shuttle flights, one Soyuz flight, and served a 6 month mission aboard the International Space Station. Since retiring from NASA, Ed has worked at Google as Program Manager for Advanced Projects, and at Liquid Robotics.”  His flight experience, coupled with a degree in electrical engineering from Cornell University and doctoral degree in applied physics from Stanford University give him a unique ability to help on different aspects of BlackFly.

Ken Sasine, also an advisor and President of Precision Wings LLC, a flight test consulting firm, brings a wealth of experience.  With time in over 100 different aircraft and 16,000 hours flight time, Ken can evaluate the complete flight spectrum of this unique design.  He is a graduate of the USAF Test Pilot School and former instructor at USAF and National Test Pilot Schools.

 Is There a Future for Such Personal Aerial Vehicles?

As a possible feature bonus, BlackFly can be trailered on a solar power/hangar platform for off-grid electric flying.

As exciting as the videos are, and as well-developed as this product is, it still costs some variable SUV price.  Potential customers will balk at different price points from a $35,000 SUV to a $150,000 SUV.  It’s small enough that perhaps 3D printing could crank out wings and fuselage tubs at a reasonable cost in sufficient quantities to create a mass market.  Certainly, the motors are comparable to model aircraft units in the $300 to $1,000 range.  Even with the costs of controllers being roughly equal to motors, eight motors won’t cost over $16,000.  Batteries are still a big part of the costs here.

BlackFly’s low energy consumption and low noise may help offset the high initial cost and make it a plausible PAV

Depending on how it’s made, the airframe seems simple and light enough to be made inexpensively.  The magic, of course, is in the control system, which has to be a custom hardware/software offering.  But one sees hobbyists creating home-made machines that provide stability and multi-motor control from commodity-level electronics.  Will redundant cheap components allow a level of reliability that will ensure safe passage?

Aircraft, because of small production runs, are expensive and must function perfectly all the time.  That helps make them more expensive, pound-per-pound, than toasters or dishwashers.  Still, one wonders if efficient manufacturing techniques can bring the costs down.

BlackFly, one of many multi-motor, multi-rotor personal aerial vehicles rising over the horizon, is a precursor of even more such products sure to appear soon.  They have a gutsy Board and a great sales pitch.  Their success will lead to increased interest in the long-hoped-for PAV.


SolarStratos Damaged During Testing

A terse announcement from the SolarStratos project last week caused some dismay in your editor, but also gave hope that a brave project would go forward.

“Payerne, July 6, 2018 – the solar stratospheric SolarStratos aircraft damaged this morning during a resistance test on Earth, in the base of the team at Payerne. No risk:”

Solar Stratos in flight over Payerne, Switzerland on March 26

The bad news, “However, the wing was damaged and its repair will cause a delay in the team’s operational schedule,” was reminiscent of a failure of the Solar Impulse’s wing during static testing.  The break set that project back over a year but resulted in a wing that carried Solar Impulse 2 to Morocco and back, across the U. S., and finally, around the world.

Raphael Domjan, founder of the SolarStratos project, takes a philosophical view of the setback.  “Our plane is a unique prototype, destined to accomplish what nobody has done so far: fly to the stratosphere in a clean way, thanks to solar energy. This pioneering spirit involves a real technological challenge, and takes us to unknown territories. Risks are an integral part of such a project, even if our objective is to anticipate them as well as possible; this is why we carry out many tests.”

Designed by Calin Gologan, skilled at creating lightweight, high-performance structures, SolarStratos is a unique carbon fiber prototype. SolarStratos characterizes the airplane: “It is an experimental, fragile and sensitive aircraft. The test performed this morning consisted of gradually increasing the load on the wings, artificially, in order to simulate an extreme flight situation with two pilots on board the aircraft.”

From behind pilot Hischier, passenger returning from stratospheric flight would have this view of Swiss landscape, solar cells on wings

Since it started flying one year ago, the SolarStratos aircraft has successfully flown 15 times with test pilot Damien Hischier at the controls.  Many lessons have been learned from this initial phase, which will be valuable for the next stages of the project.  Eventually, the craft would take passengers for flights into the stratosphere.

According to SolarStratos, regular test flights over La Broye gave Hischier “ample opportunity” to sort out the controls and “get a sense of the behavior of the solar airplane.  We provide SolarStratos’ Q and A with Hischier below.

Damian – what is your background and how did you become a test pilot?
Originally, I was an airline pilot, then I transitioned to a business jet pilot. After that I went to Africa to be a ‘bush pilot’. And now I’m a test pilot. I’ve tested around 140 different aircraft, including a number of prototypes. Piloting a new plane is always a significant challenge, but that is what I enjoy.

What do you think of the SolarStratos aircraft?
The project really fascinates me from an aeronautical point of view, but also because of the values that the project conveys. I am a supporter of sustainable development and new technologies and this project combines these two principals.

What are the particularities of this project from a pilot’s point of view?
Well, it is really experimental. It flies very slowly and has a large wingspan, so high inertia. It is also an excellent glider. At the start of the project we had a descent rate of one meter per 38 meters traveled, which was clearly insufficient. Imagine a descent from the stratosphere at that rate! We installed an airbrake that works very well, so now we can descend much faster. Dozens of other details have been modified and tested successfully.

What are the objectives of these test flights?
Every time we fly, we change the ’flight envelope’. That means we push the boundaries each time, that could include more complex maneuvers, longer flight time or higher altitude. The ultimate goal is to evolve the plane and make it safe so that Raphael can take over the controls.

And what are the next steps?
We must now define the minimum flight speed, determine the ideal climb angle and calculate the energy needed to climb. We know all the theoretical data, but it is crucial to validate the engineering calculations against practical tests.

How do you analyze the evolution of the project?
Last year, we flew three flights before the plane went into the yard for major modifications during the winter. Since the spring, the handling of the plane is much better and I’m very happy with the way the project is evolving. The SolarStratos team is very competent and we are moving in the right direction. My confidence increases after every flight and soon I will be in a position to train Raphael and hand over the controls.

By Air, but Also by Sea


#PlanetSolar – The first around the world powered by solar energy. #SolarStratos #RaceForWater #RaphaelDomjan

Posted by PlanetSolar Foundation on Monday, May 28, 2018

Domjan has extensive experience with solar power, having founded and sailed the MS Turanor Planet Solar boat around the world in 2010 through 2012 and release it for further voyages to help promote cleaning plastic from our oceans.

We hope for future success for all of Raphael Domjan and Calin Gologan’s projects.


From the CRADLE to the Breakthrough  Battery

Hyundai, the Korean carmaker turning increasingly to electric vehicles, has teamed with Ionic Materials, a Massachusetts-based battery developer to work on an innovative solid-state battery.  Ionic’s solid polymer electrolyte technology promised to improve battery safety and performance.  Liquid electrolytes are often blamed for disastrous battery fires, so the search for a solid-state alternative is one way to counter the problem.

Hyundai’s CRADLE (Center for Robotic-Augmented Design in Living Experiences), “corporate venturing and open innovation business,” is investing in Ionic to gain access to the company’s technology, which also supports lithium-ion cells with no cobalt in their cathodes.  Reducing or eliminating cobalt in their batteries may be a major incentive for Hyundai.  Forbes reports, “Carmakers, such as Germany’s BMW, and electronic gadget makers, such as Apple, are scouring the world for supplies of cobalt, a rare metal that has tripled in price over the past year to $80,000 a ton, with 60% of global supply coming from the bloody Democratic Republic of Congo.”

Environmental “points” for making clean-energy automobiles may be overshadowed by bad publicity related to “blood minerals,” much like the negative appearance in wearing “blood diamonds” or other conflict gems.

Expected Benefits of Solid-State Batteries

Ionic Materials cites the following as advantages of their solid-state battery technology:

  • Inherent Safety: Eliminates safety issues with liquid electrolytes.
  • Higher Performance: Enables higher energy anodes and cathodes.
  • Lower Cost: Reduces battery cost through less expensive chemistries and manufacturing (including the elimination of cobalt).

“’Ionic Materials’ breakthrough technology could significantly improve battery technology today,’ said John Suh, vice president of Hyundai CRADLE. ‘We are always looking for ways to ensure our cars provide the highest level of clean and efficient solutions. Our investment in Ionic Materials will keep us at the forefront of battery development, allowing us to build better eco-friendly vehicles.’”

A Wired magazine article titled, “Batteries Still Suck, But Researchers Are Working on It,” quoted Ionic Materials CEO Mike Zimmerman explaining, “’People are working on variations of anodes and cathodes, but the real block [to battery advancement] is the electrolyte, which is what we’re trying to improve upon.’  He noted that ceramic and glass can be brittle, and can give off gases when exposed to moisture, so he believes those solids are less-than-ideal solutions for solid-state batteries.”  His polymer-based electrolyte avoids some of these problems while offering other benefits.

According to Ionic Materials, “Key properties of ionic materials’ polymer include:

Ionic Materials’ solid-state electrolyte exceeds Department of Energy’s expectations for conductivity, and performance of other solid-state materials and liquid electrolytes

  • Up to 1.3 mS/cm at room temperature (a measure of electrical conductivity.  This number is competitive with figures for liquid electrolytes)
  • Lithium transference number of 0.7
  • High voltage capability (5 volts)
  • Can accommodate high loadings in the cathode
  • High elastic modulus
  • Low-cost precursors
  • Stable against Lithium
  • Conducts multiple ions”

Zimmerman concludes, “The investment by Hyundai represents another key company milestone and demonstrates our rapid momentum as we develop polymer-based materials for solid-state batteries.   With the ongoing help of our investment partners, we have expanded our facilities and are adding to our team to meet the ever-growing demand for this technology.”

Further advancements made possible by Ionic Materials’ polymer will support additional high-energy and eco-friendly battery chemistries, including lithium metal, lithium sulfur and inexpensive and low-cost rechargeable alkaline batteries.


Equator P2 Makes First Runway Hops

The Culmination of Eight Years’ Effort

Tomas Brødreskift, his father and a dedicated team of volunteers have been working on a nearly no-budget, eight-year project to build a cutting-edge technology hybrid amphibian aircraft.  This past week, Equator P2’s wheels left the runway, twice on each of two days.  The team plans a full flight around the airport traffic pattern in the next few days.

Although brief, the runway runs demonstrated the hand control’s proper operation, similar to the hands-only controls used on human-powered aircraft.  In that instance, the pilot’s legs are busy pedaling, obviating the need for manual operation only.

In the Equator’s case, Tomas wanted simplified controls to make his aircraft a more desirable machine for future buyers.  He is, after all, an industrial designer, creating beautiful things that would otherwise be mundane.  He works with Classic Factory Automotive and Industrial Design, putting the “look” in exotic electric sports cars, bicycle frames, coffee makers, and designer watches, among objects.

Test pilot Eskil Amdal makes one of several runway hops to test hand controls, airplane handling

Crowd Funding for Equator

Self-funding construction for the past eight years meant slow progress, although still exceptional for a literally garage-based project.  The flight test prototype is truly hand-made, often by Brødreskifts’ personal craft or guidance.   Tomas has turned to, a European investment and crowd-funding operation, to help expedite future development of the airplane and its production.  Unfortunately for American supporters of the project, Seedrs is off-limits to people on this side of the pond.

Perhaps Tomas will be able to return to earlier, even grander ideas.  His SeaSTOL personal jet (then called a Very Light Jet – VLJ) was an eight-passenger amphibian that would be a delight in which to fly and check out fjords and ocean-front property.  His comments on the project indicate he was even then being more practical with the P2.

“The SeaSTOL VLJ project was done whilst studying Industrial Design in Essen, Germany in 2008. But it has never been published at extent to date, and still remains a dream to be built in the future. Today I am managing a small aircraft company in Norway called Equator Aircraft Norway SA. We are developing a smaller seaplane called the EQP2. The SeaSTOL VLJ is still on our design table, and I hope to realize it. Please feel free to visit our website or more info on the Equator System as well.”

We wish Tomas and his project every success with the fulfillment of a long-deferred dream.  Hard work does make one lucky, we’ve been told.


NASA Freely Shares X57 Lessons

NASA and several partner firms have been working on the X-57 Maxwell electric propulsion demonstrator for the past several years.  It hasn’t been as easy as it looked at first.  Encouragingly, NASA is sharing some of the hard lessons it has learned in the process, much like Elon Musk sharing many of his patents with the world.

Technicians at Scaled Composites in Mojave, California, install a wing designed for electric motors onto a Tecnam P2006T to form NASA’s X-57 Maxwell battery-powered plane. Photo: NASA

One of the hardest lessons involved the multiple battery packs, originally planned to be off-the-shelf units.  A December 2016 test resulted in a thermal runaway, a situation in which one cell that overheats can self-destruct and cause adjacent cells to follow suit.  This, as we’ve seen in Dreamliner incidents, can be dangerous and potentially deadly.  Such fires are exceedingly well reported, with any Tesla incident overwhelming the press, which ignores the 174,000 car fires reported by the National Fire Protection Association in 2015, which resulted in 415 deaths and $1.2 billion in property damage.  Electrified aviation will be even more critically examined if electric fires bring down a craft.

Intentional overheating of one cell in a test battery module started a “cascade” effect in which heat spread from one cell to the next.  Experts at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio and Johnson Space Center in Houston collaborated with Empirical Systems Aerospace in California to redesign and construct safer battery modules.  Subsequent tests at an Electric Power Systems laboratory in Logan, Utah demonstrated the redesigned battery pack’s ability to produce flight-ready current levels throughout takeoff and cruise without overheating.

Throughout the testing, NASA, EPS and ESAero monitored the battery’s overall capacity, including its ability to remain stable throughout an X-57 flight profile. Thermal runaway and propagation testing was then conducted to confirm that the battery system’s design could keep the pilot and aircraft safe in the case of a thermal runaway event. Testing took place at an EPS co-joint testing facility with Utah State University, following a redesign of the battery system.  Photo: Electric Power Systems

New modules will feature a “honeycomb block” of aluminum holding individual cells.  Space between cells should prevent overheating and thermal transfer between cells.  Matt Redifer, chief engineer for the project at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, says initial data shows repeating December’s test will not cause a thermal runaway.  To provide more space among cells, the plane will carry 16 smaller modules instead of the original eight, according to an email to Popular Mechanics from Sean Clarke, NASA’s principal X-57 investigator.

Battery location shows a major reason for taking all safety precautions in preventing thermal runaway.  Final modules will be smaller and twice the number.  Only batteries on the left side of the airplane are shown in the cutaway

Redifer explains the new modules will add 45 kilograms (99 pounds) to the airplane but are a necessary concession to safety. “The battery is a means to an end, rather than an area where the X-57 team is trying to innovate.  Our battery is heavier and probably lower energy density than you might get out of, say, a Tesla [electric car lithium ion] battery.”  To help prevent thermal runaway from spreading, the X-57 will now have 16 320 cell modules instead of eight 640-cell units.  Containment has been a major concern in the redesigned modules.

Electric Power Systems’ safer battery packs became part of George Bye’s Sun Flyer 2, and will probably additional data to NASA as they accumulate hours in the production training aircraft.

The batteries are part of Mod 2, a step in converting an Italian P2006T originally powered by twin Rotax engines to an electric craft with two “cruise” motors on the wingtips and a dozen “high-lift” motors distributed along the high aspect ratio wing’s leading edge.

Joby Motors supplies the 22-pound, 10-kilowatt (13.4 horsepower) lift motors and the 57-pound, 60-kilowatt (80.4 hp.) cruise motors.  This distributed electric propulsion should generate enough lift by blowing over the top of the wing to enable the airplane to take off at standard P2006T speed even with a wing of about half the area of the original.

As NASA explains, “The high-lift motors and propellers would be designed to activate, along with the wingtip cruise motors, to get the X-plane airborne. When the plane levels out for cruise mode, the high-lift motors would then deactivate. The five propeller blades for each motor would then stop rotating, and fold into the nacelles, so they don’t create unwanted drag during cruise. The two wingtip cruise motors would maintain flight during this phase of the flight. When the time comes to land, the motors would then reactivate, and centrifugal force would cause the propeller blades to unfold and create the appropriate lift for approach and landing.”

A simplified power control schematic for the X-57

With the battery issues solved and motors under test, NASA has now approved the final of four planned phases of the X-57 program.  These will include mounting the high-aspect-ratio wing, installing the high-lift and cruise motors and performing flight demonstrations by late 2018 or early 2019.

That civilian off-the-shelf (COTS) batteries may not have fulfilled their mission and set the program back about a year, but that year brought about improved battery packaging and control, and time to refine the complex control systems on the MOD 3 wing.  Pilots will gain additional simulator time to sort out how to deal with 14 motors.  With safety as a watchword, the X-57 Maxwell should be able to achieve its lofty goals, including flying on one-fifth the energy of the original, with ease.


Three June Races Electrified

Every June, three races provide insight into how much electric power has become a regular part of motorsports: The Isle of Man TT Zero motorcycle race, the 24 Hours of LeMans, and the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.  This year, there were disappointments as well as triumphs, but progress nonetheless.

Isle of Man TT Zero

For followers of electric two-wheeling, this year’s Tourist Trophy (TT) Zero had one high moment, a record-setting run by Michael Rutter on a Team Mugen bike, which did one lap at 121.824 mph (18:34.956 for the 37.75 mile course).  Admittedly, because of the relatively low energy density of batteries to petrol, the electric bikes do a single lap compared to the six laps on the more powerful and faster superbikes.  He was flagged off on his run by Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and received his trophy in similarly royal style.

Rutter topped a field of “privateers” and university teams, which all did credibly.  It would be nice, though, to see other professional teams other than Mugen, enter the fray next year.

  1. Michael Rutter – Mugen, 18:34.956 min, 121.824 mph
  2. Daley Mathison – University of Nottingham, 18:58.600, 119.294
  3. Lee Johnston – Mugen, 21:26.668, 105.566
  4. James Cowton – Brunel Racing TT Zero, 23:14.934, 97.372
  5. Adam Child – MCN/Moto Corsa, 27:50.042, 81.332
  6. Shaun Anderson – Brammo, 30:16.155, 74.789

The 24 Hours of LeMans

Previous LeMans races featured high-quality competition between three teams: Toyota, Audi, and Porsche – all campaigning hybrid electric vehicles with wildly varied technology.  This year, only Toyota fielded two LMP1 (LeMans Prototype 1) class cars, and the only hybrids in the race.  All 20 LMP2 cars were powered by Gibson V8 engines, and the sports classes comprised Porsches, Ford GTs, Chevrolet Corvettes, Ferraris and Aston Martins.

Toyota’s hybrids won outright, though, finishing first and second after dodging slower cars to make it to the finish line together.

The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb

Volkswagen employees who put the record-breaking I. D. R electric vehicle together in only 250 days from inception to race completion must be miracle workers, setting a world record, breaking the old world record by 16 seconds, and doing it all on its first competition run up the mountain.

Driver Romain Dumas expressed his gratitude to those workers,  echoing thoughts from a corporate Director.  “The I.D. R Pikes Peak is the sporty forerunner of Volkswagen’s I.D. family. Today, we saw what this technology is capable of”, said Dr. Frank Welsch, Member of the Board of Management of the Volkswagen Passenger Cars brand with responsibility for “Technical Development”. “Every Volkswagen employee can be extremely proud of today’s result. I congratulate the team from the bottom of my heart. With a combination of outstanding engineering skills, passion and commitment, the team has managed to create a fantastic racing car in just eight months. The Volkswagen I.D. R Pikes Peak has now set the fastest time in the history of this hill climb, which spans more than 100 years – that speaks volumes for electric mobility.”

As with Toyota’s use of racing to improve its breed of hybrids for the everyday motorist, VW seems intent on polishing its electric image.  Following “Dieselgate,” the company has been quick to exploit a cleaner image, and the I. D. R machine shows that they can attack new challenges with a fervor one wishes from their competitors.

One hopes for increased competition in electric motorcycles, especially since they might provide powerplants and battery packages for tomorrow’s homebuilt electric aircraft.


Safe BVLOS Operations

Out of Sight, but Not Out of Mind

Simulyze, Inc. devises data-based application, analysis, and management programs for “Large streams of data from various sources in relation to BVLOS, and visualizes all aspects of multiple flight operations in a single, customized graphical interface,” their Mission Insight application.

BVLOS – Beyond Visual Line of Sight – may become the most important abbreviation in the unmanned aerial system’s (UAS’s) lexicon. It has only been a few years since a George Bye-initiated program put the Silent Falcon solar-assisted drone on missions in Canada by Silent Vectors. Those missions involved checking on the health of oil and natural gas pipelines, surveilling wildfires, and daring other far-flung forays. Obviously, having a drone beyond visual and radio range means relying on its programming and autonomous abilities – a great deal like trusting a homing pigeon to find its way home.

This screenshot from Simulyze’s Mission Insight application shows four aircraft flying in close proximity, including BVLOS operations; two of four UAS are shown operating outside of their respective flight volumes, and notification is sent to the violating operator as well to other operators in the area. Simulyze Photo

Simulyze’s CEO Kevin Gallagher advises, “To effectively and safely do BVLOS, you need to plan; you need to coordinate UAS [unmanned aircraft systems] into the airspace. Then during flight, you need proactive situational awareness – so you know everything around you and what’s going on, so you can actively monitor flight.”

Lack of Situational Awareness Can be Dangerous

“The Canadian transport minister announced Sunday that a drone recently collided with a commercial aircraft, marking a first in North America.  The collision took place Thursday, when a Skyjet aircraft, a Beech King Air with 10 on board was on its final descent into the Jean Lesage International Airport in Quebec City.”

Drones can pop up in front of even the most conscientious pilot too quickly to avoid, and whether the UAS is accidentally or deliberately vectored into the oncoming plane is almost incidental. Anything that can keep two UASs or an airplane and a UAS apart is much to be desired.

Flying in Descended Minimums

Another element in UAS control is the maximum ceiling for operation. To fly around urban and suburban areas does not require high cruising altitudes, and most plans for future airspace control lock delivery-type UASs into a low altitude arena. This also raises the density of traffic in any given area, making big data a necessary function of any control system.  As researchers at NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field have predicted and promoted, “The two main mantras of UTM include (1) flexibility where possible and structure where necessary and (2) a risk-based approach where geographical assets and UAS use cases will indicate the performance required to operate in the airspace.”

With emergency response drones, delivery drones, and hobbyists competing for space, how will we control future skies?

Simulyze responds to this premise with their Mission Insight platform, incorporating planning and situational awareness. This will enable operators to file flight plans and reduce scatter-shot randomness of spontaneous occurrences. At the same time, monitoring of aircraft status, position and platform health will help assure safe delivery of everyone’s pizza or consumer device with great security and the lowest danger to those in the air or on the ground. “Simulyze believes data management is the key to UAS pilots flying safely BVLOS in the same airspace as other UAVs and manned aircraft.”

Test flights in Alaska and North Dakota allow early demonstration of system capabilities in relatively unpopulated areas. As operators and databases become more informed, real-time analytics will enable moves to more crowded skies.

As with jazz, what sounds like improvisation is often formed on a solid, well-rehearsed base that enables occasional departures from the score, but relies always on careful planning and disciplined execution.


Tripling Down on Cathode Capacity

intercalation (countable and uncountableplural intercalations)

  1. (chemistry) The reversible insertion of a molecule between two others.


Enyuan Hu, a chemist at Brookhaven National Laboratory explains the importance, and limitations, of intercalation in battery chemistry.  “The materials normally used in lithium-ion batteries are based on intercalation chemistry. This type of chemical reaction is very efficient; however, it only transfers a single electron, so the cathode capacity is limited. Some compounds like FeF3 are capable of transferring multiple electrons through a more complex reaction mechanism, called a conversion reaction.”

Iron trifluoride (FeF3) is composed of “cost-effective and environmentally benign elements — iron and fluorine.  Researchers have been interested in using chemical compounds like FeF3 in lithium-ion batteries because they offer inherently higher capacities than traditional cathode materials,” according to Brookhaven.

Substituting the cathode material with oxygen and cobalt prevents lithium from breaking chemical bonds and preserves the material’s structure

Scientists at the University of Maryland (which led the research), Brookhaven and the U.S. Army Research Lab developed and studied the FeF3 cathode.  Xiulin Fan, a scientist at UMD and one of the lead authors of a paper appearing in Nature Communications, explains,” Cathode materials are always the bottleneck for further improving the energy density of lithium-ion batteries.”

Materials used in most battery cathodes allow the transfer of only one electron at a time, according to the researchers.  UMD’s FeF3 enables tripling that transfer capability.  It also helps overcome problems that handicapped earlier version of the material: “poor energy efficiency (hysteresis), a slow reaction rate, and side reactions that can cause poor cycling life.”

According to Brookhaven, “To overcome these challenges, the scientists added cobalt and oxygen atoms to FeF3 nanorods through a process called chemical substitution. This allowed the scientists to manipulate the reaction pathway and make it more ‘reversible.’”

Sooyeon Hwang, a co-author of the paper and a scientist at Brookhaven’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN), explained further.  “When lithium ions are inserted into FeF3, the material is converted to iron and lithium fluoride.  However, the reaction is not fully reversible. After substituting with cobalt and oxygen, the main framework of the cathode material is better maintained and the reaction becomes more reversible.”

Working at such nano levels requires high-powered equipment.  Brookhaven has exotic research tools at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN), which explores the unique properties of materials and processes at the nanoscale.  Brookhaven also features the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), a resource with “ultra-bright X-ray” equipment.

Brookhaven scientists Enyuan Hu and Sooyeon Hwang are pictured at the Center for Functional Nanomaterial’s TEM facility where the researchers viewed the cathode material at a resolution of 0.1 nanometers.

Researchers used transmission electron microscopy (TEM) at CFN to look at FeF3 nanorods at a resolution of 0.1 nanometers.  This enabled them, “To determine the exact size of the nanoparticles in the cathode structure and analyze how the structure changed between different phases of the charge-discharge process.” They saw a faster reaction speed for the substituted materials.

Using NSLS-II’s X-ray Powder Diffraction (XPD) beamline, and directing ultra-bright x-rays through the cathode material, researchers were able to analyze light scattering to “see” additional information about the cathode’s structure.

Jianming Bai, a co-author of the paper and a scientist at NSLS-II explained, “The PDF analysis on the discharged cathodes clearly revealed that the chemical substitution promotes electrochemical reversibility.”

Xiao Ji, a scientist at UMD and co-author of the paper concluded, “Scientists at UMD say this research strategy could be applied to other high energy conversion materials, and future studies may use the approach to improve other battery systems.”

Investments in large-scale and undoubtedly expensive equipment will probably pay off in improved research techniques and much improved future batteries.