After its successful inaugural Paris-to-Brussels flight
last year, the Solar Impulse
solar-powered aircraft will attempt to fly all the way to Morocco in May or June of this year, a journey almost ten times the distance, and its furthest flight and as a close as it has yet come to a trial run of its round-the-world flight planned for 2014.
There's no doubt that satellites have become an essential part of our daily lives, making things like communications, navigation, weather forecasting, and remote imaging all possible. Unfortunately, the orbiting objects can be very expensive, both to build and to launch into outer space. For some of the functions that they carry out, however, an actual satellite isn't required - a high altitude, long endurance (HALE
) aircraft could also get the job done, and at a much lower cost. Some such aircraft have been powered by conventional fuel
, and hydrogen
. On November 13th, though, the Electric High Altitude Solar Powered Aircraft (ELHASPA) joined the ranks of HALE aircraft to fly using nothing but the power of the Sun.
By now, most readers are probably pretty familiar with quadracopters
- small hovering unmanned electric aircraft, which get their lift from a set of four propellers. Well, make the whole thing larger, boost the number of propellers (and accompanying motors) to 16, and you get what German aircraft developer e-volo calls a multicopter. While the company has previously demonstrated unmanned drones, on October 21st it accomplished what it claims is a world first - a manned flight.
Two years ago, aircraft designers were invited to build an electric airplane that could fly at least 200 miles (322 km) in under two hours, using less than one gallon (3.8 liters) of fuel per occupant – or the electrical equivalent. Whichever plane performed best would win its makers a prize of US$1.35 million. That was the idea behind the Green Flight Challenge
, a NASA competition that was managed by the Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency (CAFE) Foundation, and funded by Google
. Well, the challenge wrapped up last week, with the winners being announced this Monday. Pennsylvania’s Pipistrel-USA team took first place, for its Taurus G4.
It's easy to look back at the history of exploration and aviation and feel like there's no mountains left to climb, that the age of the great pioneers is behind us and we're doomed to a future of LCD tanning and monitor hypnosis. But don't try telling that to Pascal Chretien. On August 12, this electrical/aerospace engineer and helicopter pilot took to the air in the world's first untethered, fully electric manned helicopter flight in a prototype machine that he designed and built almost entirely by himself within a 12 month development period. In his 2 minute, 10 second test flight, Chretien beat aviation giant Sikorsky into the record books - but it was not without significant risk. As the man himself puts it: "in case of crash I stand good chances to end up in kebab form."
PC-Aero's composite-construction, single-seat Elektra One electric Ultralight is one of the most efficient transportation devices ever conceived. It can fly for three hours, cruise at 160 km/h and has a 500 km range. The Elektra One's “SunAirport” hangar incorporates photovoltaic cells, providing zero emissions power for both the aircraft and hangar which will be sold together for less than EUR100,000 (US$145,000) from 2012. Significantly, the company's grand vision for taking recreational flying off-the-grid has just won it the Lindbergh Prize for Electric Aircraft
Whether you view Google as a benevolent Internet overlord or the new 'Evil Empire', there’s no arguing that the search giant at least devotes some of its squazillions towards environmentally beneficial causes. Earlier this year the company invested US$168 million
in what will be the world’s largest solar power tower plant and now it has partnered with NASA to sponsor the Green Flight Challenge
that offers a prize purse of $1.65 million for the design of quiet, practical and energy-efficient aircraft.
One of the biggest selling features for 3D printers is the fact that you can just whip up a design using CAD software on your computer, then create a physical copy of it to try out – no special factory tooling required. Well, in order to illustrate the potential of the technology for the aviation industry, engineers from the University of Southampton have just designed and flown the world’s first “printed” aircraft. The entire structure of the unmanned air vehicle (UAV) was created using an EOS EOSINT P730 nylon laser sintering machine, which builds up plastic or metal parts through a successive layering technique.
Although they’ve been around for ages, for some reason paper airplanes have never been adopted for commercial use. It could be because they get soggy when wet, they lack any kind of flight controls, or because you would need an incredibly huge piece of paper in order to make one big enough to carry a human passenger. In any case, practical paper airplanes have now perhaps come a baby step closer to reality, with Tailor Toys’ Power Up electric power module for paper airplanes – it allows you to mount an electric propeller on your paper airplanes, so they can fly under their own power.
Just a couple of weeks after its maiden flight
at the end of May, the e-Genius electric aircraft has now winged its way into the record books - managing to stay aloft for over two hours and maintain an average speed of 100 mph (160 kph). Its University of Stuttgart development team are now looking to improve on that performance, ahead of the 2011 Green Flight Challenge
for which it was designed.