Saturday, July 30, 2011

Electric Airplane Designer Wants Aviation Energy Autonomy

Electric Airplane Designer Wants Aviation Energy Autonomy: "

OSHKOSH, Wisconsin — The Elektra One from PC-Aero is making its North American debut here at Airventure. The sleek electric single-seater is a prototype of the airplane designer Calin Gologan hopes will go into production next year. But Gologan’s main goal isn’t production, it’s developing a truly “modern” airplane. He believes that starts with energy autonomy.

Gologan’s goal in developing a modern airplane is to move beyond how an airplane might look modern yet still use the same decades-old propulsion system. Those old engines come with the same high operating costs that have been around for decades as well. Gologan thinks electric power can change the definition of a modern airplane — and look good, too.

“In my mind a modern aircraft is using less energy, alternative energy and having low noise,” he says. “But an aircraft must also have a nice form and be attractive, aircraft in this class are also sold by emotion.”

No need for a radiator, but both the motor and controller need plenty of cooling air from the small ducts on the nose.

The Elektra One had its first flight in the spring, and flight testing will continue through the end of the year. Gologan says PC-Aero has made several changes, including cooling for the motor and controller and improvements to the structure of the airplane. The production model will be lighter, improving performance. Like all things electric, battery improvements allow better performance.

PC-Aero has big plans later this summer when it will attempt a record-setting flight. Sometime in late August or September, Gologan says, the Elektra One will fly from its base in Augsberg, Germany, to Berlin. The flight will cover more than 300 miles at speeds around 90 mph.

PC-Aero is testing extending the range by installing solar panels on the wings and fuselage. The motor can produce 16 kilowatts (21.5 horsepower) for take-off and 14 kW (18.7 hp) for continuous use. Cruising requires just 6 kW (8 hp), says test pilot Norbert Lorenzen.

“It flies very easy, much more like a glider,” he says.

The efficient, glider-like design means power needs are minimal. Gologan says up to 15 percent of the power needed during cruise could be supplied by a wing covered in solar panels. But the real goal of energy autonomous flight is the hangar PC-Aero has in mind for the Elektra One.

PC-Aero is just beginning to test the use of solar cells on the wings and fuselage of Elektra One.

By covering the roof of a small hangar with solar panels, the Elektra One could fly as long as 300 hours annually using the sunshine available in Augsberg. By developing a complete power package for the airplane, Gologan believes pilots can achieve energy independence. It would be revolutionary, he says.

“We are in the fourth revolution,” he says. “The first was the agriculture, then the industrial and information revolutions. Now we are in the energy revolution.”

Gologan says a key part of the revolution is goes beyond embracing alternative energy to producing it for ourselves.

Solar panels will charge the airplane’s 26 kilowatt-hour battery, which weighs 100 kilograms (220 pounds). The composite airplane weighs 100 kilos empty, leaving another 100 kilos for the pilot and anything he or she might want to carry along on a flight.

Gologan already is developing the next model, which will feature an extended wingspan. The added room will allow for additional solar panels, providing as much as 50 percent of the power needed for flight. Longer wings also will facilitate soaring, using thermals like a traditional sailplane — thermals being an indirect type of solar energy for flying the airplane.

A two-seater also is on the drawing board, and Gologan even mentions four- and six-seaters, though he concedes those are further down the road.

The price for Elektra One with a solar hangar is expected to come in under $150,000 (100,000 Euros). It’s not cheap for a single-seat airplane, but given there are virtually no additional costs incurred for up to 300 hours of flying annually, the sticker shock isn’t quite so great.

Photos: Jason Paur/ Video: PC-Aero


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