News / USA

Electric-Powered Aircraft Closer To Reality

Battery-powered WAIEX aircraft
Battery-powered WAIEX aircraft
Kane Farabaugh

The drive to develop a battery to power automobiles, without using petroleum, is also behind the effort to develop an electric powered airplane.  New designs for electric aircraft were recently unveiled at the Experimental Aircraft Association's (EAA) AirVenture show in Wisconsin. While plans for electric powered passenger planes are still way in the future, sport airplanes and small helicopters powered by batteries could be on the market in the next few years.

John Monnett is the founder of Sonex Aircraft. He gets excited each time he demonstrates the capabilities of his new, experimental WAIEX aircraft.

It looks like a small plane. It feels like a small plane, but it doesn't sound like a small plane.

That's because this version of the WAIEX is not powered by a combustion engine.  It's uses batteries.  

"We wanted to stimulate thought about electric airplanes, and this is really the culmination of that," said John Monnett. "It's ready to fly, it's a completely autonomous electric airplane now, meaning that it has its own electronics battery and motor."

The battery-powered WAIEX is the product of the Sonex e-flight initiative. The company launched the program in 2006 to promote the development of alternative energy sources for aircraft.

"We are faced today with what I believe is a watershed event," said Craig Willan.

Craig Willan is a flight engineer. He's closely monitored the development of electric powered aircraft.

"What is electric mobility going to give us?  Not only on the ground but in the air?  The sky's the limit," he said. "It's a clean, renewable, highly efficient form of propulsion."

Sikorsky Engineer Jonathan Hartman agrees.

"Electric propulsion has a lot of benefits over internal combustion engines," he said. "It's quieter, it has less vibration, its inherently less complex which drives down costs, and it's easier to operate."

Hartman is part of a team at Sikorsky Aircraft working on Project Firefly. It's a single rotor helicopter powered by batteries made by US Hybrid.

"The power source for the aircraft are the two battery packs you see on either side, which are lithium ion batteries which are similar to what you find in our laptops, only custom made for us for this application," said Hartman.

Hartman says the wide swing in fuel prices made Sikorsky think about an alternative.  

"Rotor craft specifically play a critical role for both military and commercial applications," he said. "And that role could be threatened by shortages in fuel or spiraling fuel costs."

But the very thing that drives electric powered aircraft is also the biggest hurdle. Batteries are bulky and heavy, and for machines that need to be light. the major innovation ahead is making those batteries lighter and smaller.

Hartman thinks Sikorsky has found a solution. Although Project Firefly is still grounded, Hartman expects manned flight tests to begin soon.

"This can fly, and will fly," said Jonathan Hartman. "And we're looking forward to doing so when ground tests end, which we anticipate for later this year."

The Sonex and Sikorsky projects are two examples in a growing field of innovation in electric powered flight - most in their infancy.

Experts say bringing this technology to commercial air travel is a dream far in the future.

You May Like

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israeli
X
Carolyn Presutti
July 23, 2014 1:21 AM
The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israel

The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video NASA Focuses on Earth-Like Planets

For decades, looking for life elsewhere in the universe meant listening for signals that could be from distant civilizations. But recent breakthroughs in space technology refocused some of that effort toward finding planets that may harbor life, even in its primitive form. VOA’s George Putic reports on a recent panel discussion at NASA’s headquarters, in Washington.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.

AppleAndroid