Green Flight Challenge

Down to Final Three!

By James Lawrence, September 28, 2011

Update 10/4/11 — Congratulations to Pipistrel for their unprecedented third win at a NASA Challenge. Picking up a cool $1.35 million, the company won with their unorthodox dual Taurus G2 fuselages joined by a larger, centrally-mounted electric engine. After this string of wins, Pipistrel has firmly placed itself in the lead position among highly efficient light aircraft and those powered with electric motors. *** NASA claims the prize purse was the biggest ever awarded for an aviation competition. In second-place a much smaller but still hefty check for $120,000 went to the German eGenius team, NASA announced. *** Read more from our friends over at AvWeb. —DJ

The CAFE Green Flight Challenge is at last underway — it was originally planned for mid-July — and as of the end of today's flying, just three of the original 13 entrants are still qualified to keep going for the $1.65 million prize money. *** The event, centered in Santa Rosa, California (between Los Angeles and San Francisco), is sponsored by Google and is seeking to advance public awareness and the technologies of electric and high-efficiency flight. Electric-driven aircraft have garnered most of the advance press, though most of the electric entrants have either been eliminated or couldn't get their aircraft ready in time.

The eGenius all-electric CAFE Green Flight Challenge competitor. photo courtesy Eric Raymond

It's a pretty simple task: fly 200 miles averaging 100 mph or greater... with one teeny tiny hitch: fuel burn or fuel equivalent use (electric or electric/hybrid) can only be one gallon of fuel. That's right: one (1) gallon. Put another way, that's 200 mpg. Daunting, to say the least. *** Every task day there are different challenges to test the full mettle of each aircraft and pilot, such as a strictly economy run, a maximum decibel test, then the final speed/economy run on the last day. *** One entry, the Eco-Eagle, in the works for 2 years from Embry-Riddle Aviation University, was just disqualified because the race rules specify a two-place airplane must fly with two people, not just a pilot and an equivalent copilot weight in the other seat. But Embry-Riddle's rules specify only one ERAU participant can fly in a competition event. The Eco-Eagle also did not have a fully functioning airframe parachute system, although one was aboard, and that violated another CAFE requirement. *** The officials, with full consent of the other competitors, will allow the aircraft to fly in the race as a demonstration aircraft, and although it's not eligible for an award, it will be interesting to see how it fares against the others. *** Gotta say, somebody didn't do their homework. Those poor kids at Embry Riddle worked for two years and nobody figured out they wouldn't be legal because of a basic rule: flying with all seats filled? Hard to figure that one, but kudos to the team and the competitors for encouraging the ERAU team to be part of the event: they've certainly earned it. The aircraft was performing very well in practice runs according to varied reports from the field. *** In a bit of a surprise, old friend Jim Lee in the Rotax-powered Phoenix USA is one of the three remaining competitors (along with Pipistrel's Taurus G4 and Germany's e-Genius)! Jim's a master at squeezing every last bit of performance out of whatever he flies (as I've written before, he held the distance hang glider record for years back in the '80s and is an accomplished sailplane pilot). And he really loves nibbling the thermal potential in his elegant, high tech Phoenix motorglider, for which he's also the U.S. distributor. *** Ah, my misspent youth: if only I could afford one... or a Pipistrel Vinus or Sinus... or Eric Raymond's Sunseeker... alright kid, snap out of it. *** I don't know yet what happened to the electric version, the PhoEnix, other than it couldn't be made ready for race date in time or perhaps wasn't performing up to expectations. *** Many people are reporting that it's the electric version that's flying, but Jim's comments in the video below would seem to put the kibosh on that. Too bad PhoEnix is out, it was a promising entry... but also kind of cool that a gas-powered motorglider is even in the finals. Good hunting Jimbo!