27 June 2008

A Glimpse of the Future of GA?

These days Randall Fishman seems to be on the cutting edge of what may prove to be the future of general aviation. Last year his ElectraFlyer battery-powered trike won the Grand Champion Ultralight and Innovation Award at AirVenture. This year he will be bringing his ElectraFlyer-C at Oshkosh.

The ElectraFlyer-C is essentially a technological development of the trike's powerplant design, but with the electric engine and battery pack mounted in a Moni motorglider. The motorglider is a natural for this type of power, as its low drag profile and low span loading add up to an aircraft that is very efficient and therefore, can fly on a small amount of power.

The ElectraFlyer-C is powered by a 29-pound, 18-hp electric motor, a regenerative-braking-capable controller package and two lithium polymer battery packs. The batteries weigh a total of 78 pounds. The single place Moni has a 27.5-foot wingspan which gives it a respectable 18:1 glide ratio. It weighs 380 lbs, fully charged and ready to fly, less the crew weight.

The aircraft is expected to have a climb rate of at least 500 fpm, a cruise speed of 70 mph and a stall speed of 45 mph. With the current batteries it should be able to fly under electric power for approximately 90 minutes, giving a realistic one hour flight, plus a half-hour power reserve.

The plane can be recharged from a 110-volt outlet in about six hours. Using a 220 volt charger will cut the recharging time to about two hours.

The Moni airframe is no longer available as a kit and so Fishman will not be marketing a complete aircraft. Instead he is focusing on providing the complete power pack including the motor, controller and battery packs. This is aimed at home builders who will then mount this powerplant in their own aircraft.

What is the point? Well perhaps two-fold.

First the ElectraFlyer-C is expected to operate for a fuel cost of about 75 cents for a one hour flight. This compares to a minimum of $10-15 per hour for fuel for any gasoline burning aircraft, even in this horsepower range.

Second, GA has to be prepared to move away from burning gasoline and oil-based fuels. Many folks spend a lot of time complaining about the price of gas these days, but very few people are doing anything about it.

People like Randall Fishman and his ElectraFlyer are rarities - someone who is dealing with the issue of high oil prices head-on with practical, well-engineered solutions.

So kudos to Randall Fishman, he may well be showing us the way to the future of personal flying. I don't think too many pilots would argue that 75 cents an hour for power to fly is a bad thing!

Pictures and details on ElectraFlyer's website

16 June 2008

Walk Arounds are Getting More Important!

The increasing price of avgas is having an interesting effect and that is adding up to making doing better walk arounds a really good idea.

AvWeb recently carried a story about a commercial light aircraft in New Zealand that suffered a gas theft. This probably shouldn't be a surprise to anyone - avgas is worth a lot of money these days. In this case the thieves got away with 26 gallons (100 litres) of fuel, valued at $200.

Avgas is $1.67 this week at Carp, which would make this theft $167, even at the relatively cheaper cost of gas here over New Zealand.

In the case of the aircraft in New Zealand the pilot noticed the theft on his pre-flight inspection and reported it to the police. He gets full marks for doing a good walk around. How many of us fly in somewhere, gas up and then go for lunch, come back jump in and just go, without re-dipping the tanks?

It could be quite a surprise to start up and take-off only find that you only had enough gas left in the tanks to start up and take-off. In this day and age make sure you dip those tanks before you fly!