Tiger Times

The Student Newspaper at Analy High School

Flying in Greener Skies

Written By: Tiger Times - Aug• 14•13

Most residents of ecologically-conscious Sonoma County are likely aware of the recent rise of electric cars. However, very few know that electric aircrafts exist, let alone that they may one day come to redefine aerial transportation. Even more surprising is the fact that, on April 26-27, the world’s premier conference on electric aviation technology was held locally, only a few miles away in Santa Rosa.
The Electric Aircraft Symposium (EAS) is a yearly event hosted by the Sonoma County-based CAFE (Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency) organization, a non-profit that has pushed for more efficient light aircraft since its founding in the 1980s. EAS functions as a meeting place for those involved in electric aviation and serves to provide its attendees with a complete picture of the current status of technology in this emerging field. As the seventh annual symposium, EAS 2013 featured a variety of presenters who described, in detail, the potential of electric aircraft, what the aircraft industry is currently doing to bring electric aircraft to market, recent developments in technologies used by electric aircraft, and other related topics.
Two of the most anticipated presentations were given by members of the competing teams at last year’s Green Flight Challenge (GFC), a NASA sponsored competition for fuel-efficient light aircraft that featured two electric airplanes with usable “real world” performance. A member of the eGenius team, which came in second, presented first, speaking mostly about the manufacturing technologies behind his carbon fiber aircraft. His speech was later followed by a presentation from two engineers at Pipistrel, the company behind the winning entry in the competition. In their talk, they described three of the company’s upcoming projects: a hybrid-electric four seat plane capable of over 200 miles per hour, an inexpensive electric training aircraft, and a small single seat electric plane capable of vertical takeoffs and landings. They stated that the first two of these designs would reach production in the next few years, with the third hopefully to follow soon after. If anything can prove that electric aircrafts are rapidly becoming a reality, Pipistrel’s remarkable progress in the field should do so.
Many of the Symposium’s other featured presentations revolved around emerging technologies that could potentially be applied to electric aircraft. These included one given by an engineer from IBM who spoke about lithium-air batteries and one by a researcher who discussed the development and potential of graphene-based supercapacitors. Both of these technologies could provide enormous advantages over the lithium-ion batteries now used. Since the high cost and weight of current batteries is arguably the greatest problem facing today’s electric aircraft, such new energy storage technologies could lead to major progress in the electric aviation industry.
One of the last talks given was by Brien Seeley, the head of CAFE’s board of directors. He described his vision for quiet, low-cost electric air taxi service to every neighborhood; a dream that, with recent advances in electric aircraft, seems to be rapidly approaching fruition. Considering the progress described by the presenters at this year’s Electric Aircraft Symposium, it appears that electric propulsion may soon revolutionize the aviation industry, much as it already seems to be changing the automotive one.

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