Electric plane wins $1.35 million prize
The Pipistrel USA Taurus G4, a four-seat, twin-fuselage aircraft, earned the $1.35 million first prize from NASA.
October 4th, 2011
07:38 AM ET

Electric plane wins $1.35 million prize

A Pennsylvania company has won a $1.35 million prize from NASA for developing a highly efficient airplane power by electricity.

Pipistrel-USA.com of State College earned the top prize in the CAFE Green Flight Challenge, sponsored by Google, NASA announced Monday.

The plane developed by Pipistrel doubled the fuel efficiency requirement for the competition - flying 200 miles in less than two hours while using less than a gallon of fuel per occupant or the equivalent in electricity. The winning plane used a little more than a half-gallon of fuel per passenger for the 200-mile flight.

Team Pipistrel-USA.com was one of 14 entrants in the competition, which began two years ago. In total, the 14 teams invested $4 million in the competition, according to NASA.

"Two years ago the thought of flying 200 miles at 100 mph in an electric aircraft was pure science fiction," Jack W. Langelaan, team leader of Team Pipistrel-USA.com, said in statement. "Now, we are all looking forward to the future of electric aviation."

Second place, and a $120,000 prize, went to Team eGenius of Ramona, California, whose leader, Eric Raymond, congratulated Team Pipistrel.

The winning aircraft, the Pipistrel Taurus G4, is a four-seat, twin-fuselage aircraft powered by a 145-kilowatt brushless electric motor driving a two-blade propeller mounted on a spar between the fuselages. The plane's wingspan is about 75 feet.

"I'm proud that Pipistrel won. They've been a leader in getting these things into production, and the team really deserves it, and worked hard to win this prize," Raymond said in a NASA statement.

"Electric aircraft have moved beyond science fiction and are now in the realm of practice," Joe Parrish, acting chief technologist at NASA headquarters in Washington, said in a statement.

The planes flew last week out of Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport in California. Only three of the 14 entrants made it into the air, according to The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. The airport is home to the Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency Foundation, which organized the competition with NASA.

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Filed under: Aviation • NASA
soundoff (242 Responses)
  1. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio)"Birthplace Of Aviation"

    How about that Solyndra? Imagine that. An electric airplane. Sounds like this one is right up your alley. Solar panels to outfit a new Boeing 797. A perpetual motion airliner, flys during daylight only. I'm sure you Scaggs always get more slush to finance that.

    October 4, 2011 at 8:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Caveman

      You know.. if the powers that be would put solar panels on the top of cars, the efficiency would be fantastic and completely renewable. It's time for people to understand... energy is free just like air.

      October 4, 2011 at 8:45 am | Report abuse |
    • rick

      It really saddens me that Obama followed Bush's footsteps and gave taxpayer money to companies that backed him like Solyndra. Would much rather have Hillary in the front office or a moderate republican (which doesn't seem to exist.)

      October 4, 2011 at 9:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Scottish mama

      @rick I believe solyndra was having problems with the government not adapting the regulations for energy development. They are unable to produce the product and sell it legally with existing regulations, the republicans are stifling the energy progress for political gain to make Obama look bad.

      October 4, 2011 at 10:25 am | Report abuse |
  2. Hope

    they can go faster than that.

    October 4, 2011 at 8:01 am | Report abuse |
  3. jimmymax

    But where did they find a 200-mile long electric cord? Must have spliced together 35,000 old vacuum cleaner cords. Them college kids is smart!

    October 4, 2011 at 8:07 am | Report abuse |
    • jimmymax

      But seriously, about 50% of the project has to be the power source, and of course CNN doesn't mention a single word about the battery technology used.

      October 4, 2011 at 8:10 am | Report abuse |
  4. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio)"Birthplace Of Aviation"

    Boeing 797 developed with solar panels to to with the 787's carbon fibre composite fuselage and wings. One weighty SOB. Alien developed with Omama slush.

    October 4, 2011 at 8:09 am | Report abuse |
    • jimmymax

      Alien? You haven't taken your morning meds yet, have you?

      October 4, 2011 at 8:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Actually, with the work they are doing with solar panels these days it wouldnt be beyond imagination that they would put some form on the wings of aircraft in the future.

      October 4, 2011 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
  5. Max in NY

    Haha love reading the haters/doubters comments....reminds me of the type of people who doubted the Wright brothers in the first place.

    I got news for you...fossil fuels are a finite resource, we'll have to switch eventually 🙂

    October 4, 2011 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
    • compel

      Nothin good ever come out of those crazy kids and their flyin machines!

      October 4, 2011 at 8:29 am | Report abuse |
  6. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio)"Birthplace Of Aviation"

    Actually jimmymax, I did have my meds this morning. I'm in a surgical waiting room for my better half this morning. I am a little nervous.

    October 4, 2011 at 8:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Jennifer Bond

      My prayers are with you and your wife Jeff. Your still sadly mistaken being a Republican though:)

      October 4, 2011 at 8:42 am | Report abuse |
  7. Autumn

    It's fabulous to see NASA rewarding ways to help the earth, rather than leave Her behind. It's good to check out the neighborhood (space) but at the same time we should find cleaner more practal ways to travel around home sweet home. Good going Pipstrel and good for you NASA for recognising great teachnology!

    October 4, 2011 at 8:26 am | Report abuse |
    • bob

      Of course, it's easy to forget the pollution and detriment to human life that comes from mining rare earth metals, which are used in the production of brushless motors (as well as all new TVs and other electronic gadgets). Electric aircraft are not saving the planet. It makes you feel like it... just like buying carbon credits.

      October 4, 2011 at 9:40 am | Report abuse |
  8. A

    So what's the big breakthrough that took this from impossible to possible in 2 years? Battery technology? I assume the issue before was weight to power?

    October 4, 2011 at 8:31 am | Report abuse |
    • compel

      Good question.

      October 4, 2011 at 8:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Paul

      If you ask them at info@pipistrel-usa (dot) com, I'm sure you'll eventually get an automated email back saying "we can't tell you that"

      October 4, 2011 at 8:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Ales

      It would be better to contact the info@pipistrel.si , they might actually give you an answer.

      October 4, 2011 at 9:24 am | Report abuse |
  9. Frank

    As a pilot I have just been discussing this with my wife a few days ago, presto!, it's here! there are a few modifications using ideas I've had that might make it realistic to have an airliner soon.....Congratulations to these folks!!

    October 4, 2011 at 8:32 am | Report abuse |
  10. Jim Bob

    This is good except for the fact that it's animal cruelty. Those poor hamster running on the treadmill to generate power are being mistreated!

    October 4, 2011 at 8:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Jennifer Bond

      So funny Jim Bob.

      October 4, 2011 at 8:45 am | Report abuse |
    • ""

      get a job.

      October 4, 2011 at 8:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Jennifer Bond

      Think about it folks, we're talking the equivalent of 100 mpg. not baaaad! I am going to get my 3D printer to print me one up and learn to fly, Pittsburgh traffic your history!!! lol

      October 4, 2011 at 8:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Ales

      I think they are boasting with 400 mpg.

      http://031c524.netsolhost.com/blog1/2011/10/03/and-the-winner-is-pipistrel/

      October 4, 2011 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
  11. Jake the Snake

    NASA or NASCAR?

    October 4, 2011 at 8:48 am | Report abuse |
  12. Matthew

    @Caveman

    The issue with just throwing a solar panel on an electric car and calling it a success is that solar panels do not provide enough wattage per sq. foot to produce enough. In fact, there are a few electric cars that have an option for a solar panel, but that just provides enough electricity to keep your AC going while not in motion.

    Hydrogen power cars are a different matter... It is the same method we are currently accustomed to (fill vs recharge). It's cost per gallon equivilent is around the same as gasoline ($1-$9 per gallon equivilent depending on method of producing hydrogen/power requirements). Hydrogen is the most abundent element there is... The only real issue is producing the initial infrastructure.

    October 4, 2011 at 8:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Caveman

      Right. I know that. What I'm talking about is when you're at work, and your car is just sitting there soaking up direct sunlight in 90 degree weather, charging up the litium ion batteries in the car. I know that while the car is moving that it can't keep up with the energy being used, but it will help. I'm only interested in charging the battery to full capacity while the car is not in use, and not plugged into some type of charging station. I have the whole invention in my head man.. This stuff just comes to me without even thinking about it.

      October 4, 2011 at 9:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Caveman

      I forgot to mention, that the solar panels need to conform to the cars aerodynamics. It's inefficient to have flat panels mounded on a car's roof, hood, and trunk. Therefore the panels need to be implemented directly onto the car's body smoothly and aerodynamically. Almost as if the car itself had a photoelectric paint job. Einstein created it.. I'm just applying it.

      October 4, 2011 at 9:24 am | Report abuse |
    • rvman

      Well, that and the Hindenberg issue. Hydrogen is more flammable than gasoline, it is (as a smaller molecule than gasoline) far more likely to leak, and to make this work the hydrogen would have to be under significant pressure to have a reasonable volume-to-fuel ratio. Break a fuel cell, and you have, essentially, a low-rent flamethrower.

      October 4, 2011 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Anthony

      You are still being too generous on the solar panels on cars. They supply enough to run a vent fan, not the AC.

      Hydrogen is "abundant", sure, but it's not an energy source. Hydrogen is an energy storage method, nothing more. We can't dig up hydrogen. We have to make it, using energy. So for a hydrogen economy we need lots and lots of base load energy. This is why I'm pro nuclear. 300 more nuclear plants and we have no need to burn coal anymore. It's all about the scale.

      October 4, 2011 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
    • bob

      Solar panels do not produce enough electricity to fully recharge the car's batteries even if you give it a full week! Just do the math and save yourself a lot of wasted time.

      hydrogen is flammable but is not as risky as gasoline. Consider that gasoline pours out of your car and onto the ground. Released hydrogen goes immediately into the atmosphere.

      October 4, 2011 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
    • GetReal

      Not the Hydrogen nonsense again!

      Hydrogen is extremely inefficient in all ways, whether in an ICE ~12.5% (production to use), or in a "fool cell" ~25% efficient (and the cells are absurdly expensive and can't be made cheaper and only last for around 10000 hours for those with enough power to weight).

      Electricity, on the other hand is >90% efficient from production to use through an electric motor. Combined with LiFePO4 the economics are so much better than H2 that the whole point is absurd. H2 is no good for motive power.

      Unlike the "common sense" (read typically wrong) information quoted above, H2 did NOT cause the Hindenberg to burn up; the Hindenberg caused the H2 to burn up. See "The Secrets Of The Dead – What happened to the Hindenberg?" to see that the pre-Nazis coated the Hindenberg with essentially the same thing that puts the space shuttle into space (Aluminum Oxide and Iron Oxide). This is what caused the disaster.

      As far as transportation, H2 would be best used as a lifting agent for airships that could deliver huge, very heavy objects right where they are needed.

      October 4, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Matthew

    It would be interesting to see what measures they took to get this efficiency. I assume that they cut weight everywhere they could, and optimized their drag coefficient. That being said, did they develop a new fibre composite to lighten the hull? Did they reduce power requirements to utilize lighter guages of wire? Are they using conviencial batteries? What did they do?!?!?

    October 4, 2011 at 9:02 am | Report abuse |
    • Caveman

      I did do the math, and it's all based upon the efficiency of the solar cells being used. Right now, the average solar panel is only extrapolating 10-15% of the energy hitting the ground. Once this becomes more efficient, say 60-80% efficiency, then the solar panel car bodies will achieve faster recharge times. Not to mention, that huge car lots can have a solar farm next to them so that workers can charge their cars for free during the day. You know, you may be knowledgeable, but you are also very pessimistic in your thoughts which makes for a failure before you even start. Have faith, have a the willpower to say "It can be done". Don't just blurt off negativities to satisfy your own negative outlook. The least you could say, is... Hey, let's improve on this because it IS a viable source of energy. After all.. without the power of the sun, you yourself, would not be alive. . . .

      October 4, 2011 at 10:43 am | Report abuse |
    • BigErnie

      @Caveman ... Dude, at first I thought you were just another wacko, but you won me over with your thoughtful reply and your challenge to others to be positive thinkers. I wish you the best success in bringing your ideas to reality and don't let the nabobs of negativity bother you one little bit. I've got a feeling they'll be sitting back saying "no, no, no" while you drive by someday in your Solar Sedan! I'd rather have one guy like you on my team than ten "no-it-all's".

      October 5, 2011 at 9:54 am | Report abuse |
  14. Jm

    Now if they can just get the thing struck by lightning in the air and harness that power they can go "Back to the Future!" If they can't harness it then what happens?

    October 4, 2011 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
  15. rmsbl4

    They are going to have a parking problem with a 75' wing span for a GA 4 seat acft.

    October 4, 2011 at 9:23 am | Report abuse |
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