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. David

    Yuneec from China, Sonex from the U.S, even Cessna... . Electric aircraft projects are taking off because off moves to ban leaded avgas (Friends Of The Earth), no real diesel/ Avtur engine option, rising gas taxes and prices and improving battery performance. Given most flight lessons at the ab initio stage last one hour and are local fair weather flights these planes have a solid future. Ten years from now these things will be everywhere.

    October 4, 2011 at 10:28 am | Report abuse |
    • meme

      Ok, maybe im a purist but if its called an electric airplane, but still uses gasoline of some kind, then its really not electric. I thinks its a cool plane, just we shouldn't be calling it electric.

      October 4, 2011 at 10:45 am | Report abuse |
    • JG

      While this isn't a polished and perfected model in the least, it IS a major step in the right direction, and these men should be applauded for their efforts.

      October 4, 2011 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
    • FauxNewz

      I agree with meme, it's not an electric plane. A vehicle that uses less gas is an oil company's dream, because they won't mind selling you less gas at a higher price.

      October 4, 2011 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Ben

      Look at it as an electric plane that uses gasoline to produce the electricity.

      October 4, 2011 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      It is possible that they calculated fuel used based on a energy gasoline equivalency basis, this is often how electric or hybrid vehicles' MPG economy is rated (thats why the Nissan Leaf still gets 99 MPG). It may have meant to say "used the same amount of energy that's contained in a half of a gallon." Being an engineer in hybrid vehicles, I often find that journalists / PR people don't know there there is a difference.

      October 4, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
  2. thunderbolt

    My only concern with the electric planes, cars trains etc is the storage of energy in batteries.The lifespan of batteries in use is about five years.Without a good stagedy of recycling I wonder if the fix could be worse than the problem.If the whole country went to electric powered vehicles, needing more batteries,that are larger, how long before we find ourselves with a bigger problem of what to do with the spent cells.To power your house, you would have to have multiple batteries to be able to power everything we use in our households. What experiments I have seen have large battery storage for off hrs. in solar energy. I hope they find the solutions and technology needed to make it plausable.

    October 4, 2011 at 10:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Columbus

      Typically it takes volume to make recycling cost effective, I think ultimately that will take care of itself. My bigger concern is the natural resources to produce lithium battery, we don't have a sufficient domestic supply, so we're trading reliance on oil from foreign sources to lithium.

      October 4, 2011 at 10:51 am | Report abuse |
    • richk

      We're kidding ourselves if we think batteries with limited life are the answer to environmental concerns.

      October 4, 2011 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
    • JeramieH

      Never seen a battery recycling operation before?

      October 4, 2011 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
    • M.Patel

      Recently found largest reserve of Lithium in what country? Any guess? It is found in AFGHANISTAN !!!!!!!!!!!!!!. I think god wants us to be at the mercy of Muslims forever.

      October 4, 2011 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Ben

      Of course there needs to be a break through in energy storage. A lot of research is going into this area and I expect we will see some huge advances in energy storage technology within this decade. The demand is now there. Even if next-generation energy storage still uses lithium, foreign dependence on Lithium will be much better than oil, since Lithium reserves are in more stable regions of the world. Including Canada.

      October 4, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • GetReal

      They have recently discovered that the ocean floor has concentrated rare earth deposits (this is where the sedimentary rocks that contain these elements are formed).. The report said that 1 square km has enough of these minerals for the current yearly use by the US.

      This is no longer a problem.

      Now, you could argue that the purification process HAS BEEN very dirty, but with sufficient GOVERNMENT REGULATIONS we can ensure that it is relatively clean compared to nuclear or coal or petroleum or ...

      OF COURSE it will raise the price a bit, but IT'S WORTH IT TO DO IT RIGHT.

      October 4, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  3. CmonNow11

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

    I know this is URGENT BREAKING NEWS – but why cant CNN do even a read-through for errors?? Sloppy, CNN, sloppy!

    October 4, 2011 at 10:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Really?

      "cant" or "can't"?

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

    why isn't Obama standing in companies like this and pushing American ingenuity and putting it into production, instead of funding phony and often foreign owned companies that don't even exist.

    October 4, 2011 at 10:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Ales

      Obama can't stand by this company because its not American company.

      October 4, 2011 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      Ales... these were all American companies and sposored by NASA... which shockingly is still an AMERICAN GOVERNMENT organization...

      October 4, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
  5. George

    Must have an awfully long cord.

    October 4, 2011 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Luke

      about as long as the hose to the gas pumps for gas powered planes

      October 4, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • GetReal

      Or you just have awefullly short vision.

      October 4, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • GetReal

      And yes, I spelled it awefully intentionally; as in you're so full of it that I'm in awe.

      October 4, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  6. dewed

    Aviation uses such a small fraction of all our oil. There is much better cost/resource savings to be realized by getting ground vehicles off gasoline, and save the petrol for aviation. The U.S. alone produces enough oil to run our aviation alone for thousands of years...assuming automobiles aren't burning any.

    October 4, 2011 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |

      Yea Dewed that's what we need to do is to make electric cars instead of planes or even a car that run on natural gas or even gas and electric wow! what a great idea-- oh wait they do already have them duh

      October 4, 2011 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
    • mikeb

      Thousands of years? Really? Provide a source for your "fact". Considering the real fact that there is only approximately 40-80 years of potentially recoverable petroleum reserves in the entire world and the US commercial aviation industry consumes approximately 415 million barrels per year and the US reserves are only around 134 billion barrels (according the to the US Department of the Interior), if we used every gallon of POTENTIALLY recoverable oil in the US for aviation, it would only account for 324 years. The scariest thing is most people have these great misconceptions that there are "thousands" of years worth of oil left.

      October 4, 2011 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
    • JeramieH

      We can only research one improvement at a time?

      October 4, 2011 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
    • JohnW1234

      ILLIAC IV supercomputer built in 1972 was the first gigaflop computer costing in excess of $5million. In 1999, the Pentium III chip had more computation power than this supercomputer and today your average Intel quadcore processors have 200 times that of Pentium III. What you have with this aircraft is technology demonstrators, proof of concepts which incubate innovation in so many areas. If they don't build a supercomputer in 1972, chances are you don't get the Pentium microprocessor 30 years later. Your internal combustion engine can't get you 200 miles to a gallon because 80% of the energy is wasted as heat (Thermodynamics and Otto Cycle). Such technology demonstrators have such far reaching effects that to predict what will happen is pointless. NASA paid $500k a laptop in the 60s because NASA was the only one in need of mobile computing in the 60s for their space program and since no one had attempted it before, they paid a lot. Once NASA showed the feasibility of laptop computers, the private sector refined it and today you have mobile computing everywhere. These are technology demonstrators that push the envelope of current engineering to its edge and beyond. And it isn't about the battery only. The motor technology will benefit greatly from this and so will aerodynamics, aircraft design and so many other things.

      October 4, 2011 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
    • seriously?

      All of the airplanes in the country only account for about 2% of our oil usage.

      Cars are the big fish to fry here. Reducing fuel consumption of road vehicles by 10% has a significantly larger impact than making all airplanes electric.

      I'm all for efficiency and I don't want people to take this the wrong way, if we can improve aviation fuel consumption we should do it. But most people don't realize that the aviation industry has been working on fuel efficiency for years. With aviation fuel prices so much higher, and the fact that the more efficient your plane is the less fuel you have to carry, therefore more passengers/cargo can be carried and/or the plane flies faster with a lighter load. The quest for efficiency in aviation has existed since 1906.

      October 4, 2011 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • dewed

      mikeb: Oh nice try...looks like you cherry picked your facts off the very first hits google would give you. Look deeper and try again. 1000+ years of available oil to fuel our aviation needs, true story!

      October 5, 2011 at 12:46 am | Report abuse |
  7. freecandle

    Actually this is not US technology. look it up http://www.pipistrel.si

    October 4, 2011 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
  8. Ghogo

    No word, about the country from where pipistrel comes from and no word about the owner of the company. It's certanly not the US inovation.

    October 4, 2011 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
  9. kaneda

    So they invested 4 mil and the reward is only 1.3 mil..

    Hopefully they can sell this technology... if not.. which team member will be paying for the debt.. 🙂

    October 4, 2011 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Choader Von Ripperton McGavin

      Do you know how to read? 14 teams invested $4 million...durrr. That is $285,714 per team. So they could have made out by winning the $1.35 million. Way to go, go back and get a college degree.

      October 4, 2011 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
  10. Terry d

    They had the tachnology back in the 60's to get two hundred miles a gallon in a gas powered car. But then they couldn't make billions on fuel.

    October 4, 2011 at 11:14 am | Report abuse |
    • JeramieH


      October 4, 2011 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Michael Wong

      You can get 200 miles per gallon with any car, as long as it's all downhill.

      October 4, 2011 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
  11. john

    Now this is what I call 'REAL NEWS" something the really matters. And to all the battery naysayers just keep in mind that if we hadnt spent the last 100 yrs burning gas we would have spent that 100 yrs developing better batteries! Now that we need them the technology is developing fast.

    October 4, 2011 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
  12. lScottish Mama

    And in the early 1900's we alreaky had electiric cars. Tesla was on the right track and government forces *Lobbyist* steered us clear of the energy where they could make money.

    October 4, 2011 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
  13. Jason

    They won $1.35 million but the article says it cost them $4 million to build it???

    October 4, 2011 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
    • FAIL

      Reading comprehension: FAIL!

      It's ok though, go back and read it again. I always believe in giving second chances.

      October 4, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Gregory Faith

    I used to work at NASA Dryden a few years ago and I participated in a project called HELIOS. Finally, a plane that can carry passengers and is flying with an electric motor. Toss a hydrogen fuel cell into the mix and you have a sustainable transportation system. Bravo to the winner!!

    October 4, 2011 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  15. Bill

    Wow! Why don't they call it hybrid plane?

    October 4, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
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