News / USA

    Electric-Powered Aircraft Closer To Reality

    Battery-powered WAIEX aircraft
    Battery-powered WAIEX aircraft

    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.


    Kane Farabaugh

    Kane Farabaugh is the Midwest Correspondent for Voice of America, where since 2008 he has established Voice of America's presence in the heartland of America.

    You May Like

    Escalation of Media Crackdown in Turkey Heightens Concerns

    Critics see 'a new dark age' as arrests of journalists, closures of media outlets by Erdogan government mount

    Russia Boasts of Troop Buildup on Flank, Draws Flak

    Russian military moves counter to efforts to de-escalate tensions, State Department says

    Video Iraqis Primed to March on Mosul, Foreign Minister Says

    Iraqi FM Ibrahim al-Jaafari tells VOA the campaign will meet optimistic expectations, even though US officials remain cautious

    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.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora