NASA competition offers green challenge for air travel


August 4, 2009

The Pipistril has high hopes for the CGFC event

The Pipistril has high hopes for the CGFC event

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As we've seen with the ongoing X-Prize model, competitions can be a great way to provide incentive for technological advancements in transport. While the latest example, the Lunar X Prize, has its sight set on the heavens, NASA is running a competition with objectives a little closer to the ground. The Green Flight Challenge is enticing creative types with a USD$1.5 million prize in which designers need to create an aircraft that is low cost, quiet, has a short take-off, is 'road worthy' and gets excellent passenger-miles per gallon.

Hopeful entrants have until July 2011 to dream up and perfect a light aircraft, with the most likely end-market being PAVs (Personal Air Vehicles - check out our personal flight gallery for more developments). To the uninitiated, this is the closest we’re going to get to 'flying cars' in the foreseeable future without recruiting wild-haired scientists and DeLorean DMC-12s.

NASA’s light-aircraft collaborator CAFE (Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency) is running the competition and also is involved in PAV development. Key requirements are low cost, quiet operation, short take-off and ideally the ability to for the craft to fold up its wings and career around on a road until the driver/pilot feels the need to take to the skies. PAVs would require no more training than car drivers and though it sounds a bit far-fetched at this stage of development, the idea seems to have enough backing from high-profile suitors to suggest that it could become a reality.

The green credentials of such a craft are the focus of this particular challenge though, where the highest possible passenger-miles per gallon and cruise speed will take a higher priority.

CAFE states that: "A variety of innovative experimental aircraft that fly with either electricity, solar, bio-fuel or hybrid propulsion are expected to enter."

There's also a $150,000 prize for best score by a bio-fueled aircraft is also offered.

This brings us to the Pipistril, a battery powered glider that can reach heights of 6000 feet, that is expected to do well after further development. In order to enter the contest the Pipistril, like all other entrants, will need to match or beat a minimum of 200 passenger-miles per gallon in order to prove itself as a viable green alternative to a car.


If I get something to fly and drive, but on plain tap water, is the same scrutiny applied to the fuel consumption? This is all so focussed on using petrolium based fuels. Just offer a better prize for whomever manages to extract more energy from water/hydroxy than required to run is, and having a vehicle be propelled by the difference. This stuff CAN be done, but zero funding exists for persuing it.

Jan Klok

The idea for a PAV is great, but you cannot combine a car and an aeroplane in a practical vehicle. The car will be too light or the aeroplane will be too heavy. A better solution would be a vehicle that can be towed by car and deployed quickly.

As for using water as fuel, you can\'t burn something that has already been burnt. Water is chemically stable. You can\'t just use it as fuel, to extract fuel (hydrogen), you need energy, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Edgar Walkowsky

Good Evening,

How did I miss this X Prize ??

I have a 25kw scalable up to 50kw electric system for your aeroplane designs ! Please contact me if this would suit your overall design, green, renewable power generation.

Offer available to the competing teams !!

Antal Toth LPE

Antal Lpe

Hi Antal Lpe,

I\'d be very interested. What have you got?

Mark van Wyk ( - my email is on the contact page

Please contact me directly.


Mark van Wyk

For a personal arial vehicle to be practical, inventors will need to look away from the obviously dangerous propellers and use something other than noisey turbines that will create a windstorm in your driveway. Produce that and I think you could have your foot in the door.


I don\'t believe the roadable aircraft is ever going to be more practical than Molt Taylor\'s Aerocar from 1949.

The idea of an airplane that can be transported by SUV or minivan is more practical, with another concept from the 1950s- the inflatable airplane. Today\'s materials would make for a lighter and more practical machine.

William Lanteigne
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