Environmental Protection

Record-Setting Electric Airplane Exceeds 200 mph

Last week’s record of the fastest ever manned electric aircraft was set by electric-vehicle record-setter Chip Yates. He already had credentials as holding the world record for fastest electric motorcycle going over 196 mph last year. As a test pilot this time around, Yates flew an electric airplane and achieved 202.6 mph in level flight. This topped the previous record of 175 mph last year by the electric aircraft Cri-Cri. The latter, flown by French pilot Hugues Duval, broke the record during the Paris Air Show. The aircraft was powered by a pair of 35-horsepower electric motors and a pair of lithium polymer batteries.

Test pilot Yates is now the first person to ever fly an electric aircraft faster than 200 miles per hour, in his test flight last week at the Inyokern Airport in California’s Mojave Desert. The plane that he flew is called the Long-ESA, (for Electric Speed and Altitude). The aircraft is a modified Long-EZ, serving as a development platform for a new electric aircraft system which will be utilized for a flight across the Atlantic later on. The transatlantic flight is scheduled for 2014.

The electric Long-ESA, powered by a 258 horsepower electric motor, is being worked on by electric aerospace company Flight of the Century (FOTC), where Yates is CEO, as an R&D plane for development of the company's “mid-air recharging technology.” The company team converted Burt Rutan’s Long-EZ airplane (Rutan is an aerospace engineer) for the trial flight. In a two-month workup at the FOTC site, the plane’s gasoline power was converted over to electric power.

Just how much can an electric plane achieve? So far, engineers looking at the electric plane’s future in practical terms are concerned the most with range rather than speed, and news of speed records command less attention than longevity of flight. In recognition, Yates hopes his speed runs will help develop the technology needed for longer-endurance flights and more practical electric aircraft.

Yesterday’s flight of the electric Long-ESA lasted only 16 minutes. There was a hitch when Yates realized that a battery had been run too low and he had to land sooner than expected. Long-ESA will be given a more capable battery pack as part of subsequent work. The company expects a top speed of 230 to 250 mph with the full-size battery pack in place in September.

Yates, meanwhile, is bringing the Long-ESA to the 2012 EAA AirVenture Oshkosh event, which runs July 23 to July 29, where the craft will go on display and where he will present his flight data. FOTC engineers worked on the test program to generate data, video and knowledge in time to share with attendees. After Oshkosh, the company intends to equip the Long-ESA with a custom designed lithium-ion series of battery packs and a front-mounted recharging probe to test mid-air tethering and battery jettison along with “rebalance” technologies.
Beyond this test flight, the core mission behind FOTC is to extend the range and endurance of an electric-powered aircraft by replacing battery packs in flight using its mid-air refueling technique of "flying battery packs," drones full of batteries, for various ground or ocean stations. A UAV would detach from the “mothership” once the batteries are depleted and fly down to a recharging station as a freshly charged battery pack is launched to dock with the aircraft.

 

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