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Eye of the Experimenter

NASA Green Flight Challenge, Day 1

By Patrick Panzera, Editor – Experimenter, EAA 555743

The Green Flight Challenge, sponsored by Google, got off to a good start Sunday as participants checked in, but today (Monday) the field has dwindled to three contenders after California-based Feuling GFC team had to drop with mechanical problems and Embry-Riddle’s team faced disqualification due to a conflict between contest and the team’s own operational rules. Conducted by the Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency (CAFE) Foundation, the $1.65 million competition is part of the NASA Centennial Challenge series of prize competitions to foster technological innovation.

Embry-Riddle entered a two-seat aircraft and contest rules require both seats to be occupied by a person. However, the team only brought one qualified occupant since the university’s flight operations rules do not allow more than one person in university aircraft that is certified in the experimental category. The aircraft also does not have a ballistic chute, which is a contest requirement. GFC officials later ruled that the team will be allowed to compete using ballast in place of a person, but would not be eligible for any prize money.

All the participating aircraft were scrutinized by the CAFE team, verifying the physical characteristics complied with the rules, taking measurements, weighing the plane and the occupants, and verifying the field of view, among other details. The Feuling GFC team ran into traditional mechanical issues after they “smoked” their third motor and couldn’t replace it in time for the competition.

In order to hedge against purpose-built competition aircraft that would be of very little value to general aviation, the view out the windscreen was mandated to conform to FAA AC25.733-1, and the seating configuration requires rapid egress ability. Additionally, unoccupied seats require 200 pounds of ballast, and the seating is required to handle a 6-foot-tall occupant.  

The first day of the competition will be about noise. If the competing aircraft can’t keep the noise down to 78 dBA at full throttle, measured 250 feet to the side, they will be disqualified.

The Four Competing Teams

Team – e-Genius, California 
Team leader – Eric Raymond 
Aircraft name – e-Genius
Seating – 2
Propulsion – electric
Max power – 60 kilowatts
Span – 55.4 feet

This self-launch glider takes advantage of the slower-turning, large-diameter propeller in a tractor configuration, but mounted at the rear of the airframe.

e-Genius
An Airbus-sponsored electric airplane called the e-Genius made its maiden flight in late May 2011. Larger view

Team – Embry-Riddle, Florida
Team leader – Richard Anderson
Aircraft name – Eco-Eagle
Seating – 2
Propulsion – hybrid
Max power – 100 kilowatts
Span – 75 feet

The 100-hp Rotax 912 burning biofuel is assisted by a 40-hp electric motor and lithium polymer batteries. A true hybrid, the internal combustion engine is used to supply electric power for either running the motor or charging the batteries.

Eco-Eagle
The Eco-Eagle started out as a Stemme S10 motorglider, refitted with Rotax that's augmented with a belt-driven electric motor. Larger view

Team – Pipistrel, Pennsylvania
Team leader – Jack Langelaan
Aircraft name – Taurus G4
Seating – 4
Propulsion – electric
Max power – 145 kilowatts
Span – 69.1 feet

This twin-fuselage, self-launching glider uses lithium-ion batteries and has retractable main gear. With four seats, the aircraft need only achieve 50 mpg in order to meet the minimum 200 passenger miles per gallon requirement.

Taurus G4
The Pipistrel Taurus G4 overhead at WittmanRegionalAirport during its first flight August 12.

Team – Phoenix Air, Florida
Team leader – Jim Lee
Aircraft name – Phoenix
Seating – 2
Propulsion –  
Max power – 44 kilowatts
Span – 47.3 feet

The most “conventional” entrant, the airplane that showed up is a lot more conservative than the electric version promised. It’s essentially an off-the-shelf S-LSA.

Phoenix
Powered by a Krall 44 electric motor and has retractable gear. Larger view


Workers Turbine

Although it may appear to be some form of modern art kinetic sculpture, the spherical structure at the top of the mast is a high-efficiency wind turbine for generating electricity to keep the batteries that supply power to the cameras topped off.

Workers
Working from a cherry-picker, two technicians install and adjust the security cameras adjacent to the CAFE hangar.

Since the purse is so high with this competition, security cameras were installed to monitor the impounded aircraft over night. Unfortunately, the TSA wouldn’t allow the cameras to be used for live-streaming video of the event. The equipment is nearly as cool as the aircraft it will be monitoring, being a fully self-contained system, using a wind generator and solar panels to keep the batteries topped off.

It also uses sophisticated software to analyze the images it captures, distinguishing humans from vehicles and labeling them accordingly, including clusters of each, and tracking their associated speed. The images are sent to the security headquarters via radio waves, as opposed to satellite or phone line.

The competition will continue throughout the week and EAA will be providing additional updates as the event progresses.

View the photo gallery

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