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NASA, Google Award $1.35M For Ultra-Efficient Electric Aircraft 89

coondoggie writes "NASA today awarded what it called the largest prize in aviation history to a company that flew their aircraft 200 miles in less than two hours on less than one gallon of fuel or electric equivalent. Their aircraft is the Taurus G4 by Pipistrel-USA.com. The twin fuselage motor glider features a 145 kW electric motor, lithium-ion batteries, and retractable landing gear."
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NASA, Google Award $1.35M For Ultra-Efficient Electric Aircraft

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  • Could such an aircraft be configured for mapping the surface of Mars?
  • by History's Coming To ( 1059484 ) on Monday October 03, 2011 @06:25PM (#37594216) Journal
    I wonder where most of the technology is driven, by large scale commercial operations like Boeing etc, or the smaller scale university departments and independent efforts. Most of the new Dreamliner "concepts" like the composite materials are something sport gliders have been pioneering for decades. Hopefully we'll see some trickle-up from this, or at least encourage some good engineering.
    • There are probably a lot of parallel paths. Composite technology was well-known, but was until recently not able to support the requirements for aircraft weighing and transporting several tons. While I don't expect this kind of electric technology to replace the jet turbines of commercial airliners (it'd be like running a cruise ship off of a bank of batteries), there might be some things that migrate up into the regional propeller aircraft.

      • Composite aircraft components have been used in military aircraft for quite some time. I believe the AV-8 Harrier of the 1980s is one example. While these aircraft may not have the mass of a commercial airliner keep in mind their high G maneuvering. The loads/stresses on these smaller aircraft may be comparable or greater than those on a commercial airliner.
    • I'd also look at the various civilian spacecraft efforts going on. They seem more innovative than the traditional aerospace companies. Of course to be fair these traditional aerospace behemoths have been working to NASA specs and have not done anything on their own like the little guys out at Mohave and elsewhere.
      • I recall reading that Blue Origin had made some startling advances in achieving "smoking crater".

        Maybe NASA is funding these projects is to show that it isn't that easy.

        • To me it's really worth it to help out Blue Origin a bit just to know if their approach can be done right now because it would be a game changer. Smoking craters are to be expected and don't bother me.

    • I wonder where most of the technology is driven, by large scale commercial operations like Boeing etc, or the smaller scale university departments and independent efforts. Most of the new Dreamliner "concepts" like the composite materials are something sport gliders have been pioneering for decades.

      You've forgotten (if you in fact knew) that composites have been used for missile motor cases (starting with the Polaris A-2), and for aircraft flight control surfaces and stabilizers, and other such applications

    • The cost to build and repair composites had outweighed the weight benefits that composites gave for commercial vehicles. Lots of structural research of composites has been done in many unrelated fields (boats, cars, helmets, bullet proof vests,...) a small fraction of that knowledge came from gliders. Composites have been around for a long time the sr-71 used them. Gliders are more of a proving ground for composites.
    • From the link

      30 minutes of autonomous cruise flight at 110km/h

      Hardly comes close to the 200 miles at 100+ MPH. That's about Two Hours at 160kph (if I read it and did my math right).

  • So instead of paying for fuel you end up paying about the same in 'wear' on your battery pack. You might think "but it's good for the carbon footprint, environment, reducing the peak oil problem, etc" but it isn't.

    The money you spend on the battery pack goes to fund the fuel for the large diesel engines used to help get the raw materials out of the ground in Bolivia, shipping and so on. End of life Li-Ion batteries cannot be easily recycled into new Li-Ion batteries either. So really they'd be better of
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      or not bothering with building the plane until a more sustainable form of battery or capacitor is on the market.

      I wonder, wonder, wonder if having more electric vehicles will result in more research for better batteries and capacitors compared to not having electric vehicles.

      I wonder, wonder, wonder.

      • by Timmmm ( 636430 )

        It won't. Everyone is already very aware of how much the world needs better battery technology, and how valuable such technology would be.

      • So cell phones, laptops, cordless tools, wheel chairs, or medical equipment wouldn't benefit from better batteries and wouldn't pay handsomely for the technology. Electric vehicles are a drop in the bucket of all the applications that would benefit from a better battery. The answer to your wonder is NO this technology is moving at a quick pace but the constraints of quick recharge, longevity, mass production considerations, and costs of the raw materials all contribute to making this problem a very difficu
    • Re:Lithium Ion (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Adriax ( 746043 ) on Monday October 03, 2011 @06:59PM (#37594416)

      Electric vehicles can benefit from upgrades in battery tech even if it's a radically different electricity storage medium (say a supercapacitor). Electrons are electrons, motors don't care if the wattage comes from a LiPo, LiAir, Supercap, NiMH, NiCad, or even lead acid...
      Besides, in 3-4 years we'll have Mr Fusions and our electric planes and cars will be ready for a drop-in replacement. Combustion vehicles will require a major retrofit.

      Combustion vehicles would generally need an entirely new engine if someone discovered a more energy dense fuel.

    • While the initial 'cost' of a lithium battery is higher than the initial 'cost' of an internal combustion engine, the overall or "lifecycle" cost of a lithium battery is lower than that of an internal combustion engine. [cars21.com]

    • by strack ( 1051390 )
      and how many tonnes of fuel do you think goes through a car over its lifetime? a lithium ion battery you only need to make once.
  • on less than one gallon of fuel or electric equivalent

    This is obviously neglecting the energy required for the initial charge of the batteries. A jet would fare much better if you didn't count the fuel in it's tank when it took off.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Intropy ( 2009018 )

      on less than one gallon of fuel or electric equivalent

      This is obviously neglecting the energy required for the initial charge of the batteries. A jet would fare much better if you didn't count the fuel in it's tank when it took off.

      Without checking, I'll just assume that the contest was designed with an enormous and obvious loophole, that way I can criticize it more easily.

    • on less than one gallon of fuel or electric equivalent

      This is obviously neglecting the energy required for the initial charge of the batteries. A jet would fare much better if you didn't count the fuel in it's tank when it took off.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      But you're obviously neglecting the energy required to refine the jet fuel. And the fuel required for all the employees at the refinery to get to work. And the fuel required at the farms that produced the cereal for those workers' breakfasts. And the fuel required to power the turtles all the way down.

      Or maybe the original metric made the most sense for head-to-head comparisons, and you won't be as nit-picky in the future. Though that's a lot to ask of slashdotters.

  • by afidel ( 530433 ) on Monday October 03, 2011 @06:52PM (#37594378)
    All of those metrics would have been met by the Rutan Voyager in 1984. They flew 26,366 miles on 1080 gallons of fuel and flew at an average speed of 116mph.
  • by ace37 ( 2302468 ) on Monday October 03, 2011 @06:56PM (#37594402) Homepage

    Interesting to see how many NASA and DoD contracts they've identified that are essentially trying to crowdsource innovative, cost-effective solutions that improve the aerospace performance envelope.

    Big budgets and high-caliber engineering skill and equipment are great for developing a concept, but unfortunately, innovation isn't a skill we teach well in school yet, and the need for innovative approaches are at the core of these problems. I really hope these programs have success!

    • This is a fundemental problem, often erroneously addressed as an education problem.

      Hear me out here:

      The training an engineer gets revolves around already known points of data. Things like the shear of a sheet of 2025, or the total energy in 1 liter of octane, etc. This is what an education gets you.

      Using this already known information to produce provably airworthy craft with minimal risks and unknowns is the staple of commercial avionics.

      The application of what is already known, to devise new and untested a

  • Peregrine falcons can reach over 200 MPH in a dive.
    They get their own fuel.
    They are self replicating and have amazing eyesight.
    They can be trained.
    While they're not naturally distance fliers, then can convert their insane dive speed to distance.

    Why spend millions developing fragile, limited, little planes?
    Spend tens of thousands training a bunch of birds, and strap a camera to them.
    They last for years, are undetectable by radar, and are unremarkable when actually detected.

    Or at least take a clue from birds

    • You should get to work on breeding falcons that can carry 4 people, and let us know how it goes. Since aircraft in the competition were allotted the equivalent of one gallon of fuel per passenger per 200 miles, a vehicle that carries no passengers would be allotted no fuel.

      If the goal is automation and size, we need to stop with the fixed wing bullshit.
      If the goal is speed and flight duration, we've got larger, high-altitude craft that already fit the bill.

      Not every competition is about war and spying. This contest is designed to improve fuel efficiency in passenger aircraft. Not automation, not size, not speed, not duration. Efficiency.

    • by cynyr ( 703126 )

      well how much do you thing a falcon can carry? now how many do i need to life my 200LBS ass, and my 40LBS of gear 200 miles in 2 hours from a standing start on the ground?

      I somewhat agree with your for the drone/UAV market and if this article had been about that and I had mod points i may have given you a few.

      As a note flexible/flapping wing planes are under development, but it turns out they are hard to control. Perching UAVs are as well, with both solar and peristic recharging methods.

      I wonder how far a g

    • by Moofie ( 22272 )

      I'm sorry. I don't understand what performance similarities a three pound bird has to an airplane that can carry four people a few hundred miles in a couple hours. Maybe you could help me understand.

      • I don't understand why we need new planes to carry people when we already have existing planes that do it faster, more stealthily, with more armaments, etc.

        The point is that they're pouring millions into shit we already have answers for.

        We have unmanned high altitude surveillance craft that basically float for months on end.
        We have little drones that go in under radar and bomb people.
        We have planes of various sizes to carry people.

        What we don't have are inconspicuous drones that can fly fast and act autonom

        • by Moofie ( 22272 )

          You're not making any sense. This competition is about small, efficient, electric airplanes. So your babbling about micro-air vehicles just doesn't have anything to do with that solution space.

          If you can train the birds, guarantee you can get a DARPA contract. I also guarantee that you can't train the birds.

  • You do realize that a camera and wireless card would significantly reduce this plane's efficiency, right?
  • by jamesl ( 106902 ) on Monday October 03, 2011 @07:14PM (#37594516)

    The test is to deliver 200 passenger miles per gallon. The winner had four seats so it was allowed to use up to four gallons (equivalent) of fuel to cover the 200 mile distance.

    • At the same time the article states that they achieved >400 passenger miles per gallon. Additionally, if you check the rules, they were also required to carry 200 lbs per seat in the plane. (17 http://cafefoundation.org/v2/pdf_GFC/GFC.TA.07.28.09.pdf [cafefoundation.org] ) I'm actually more impressed that they were able to pull this off with a decent carrying capacity.

    • I was wondering how one defines "passenger"? Are the pilot and co-pilot considered passengers? If they had stated occupants this issue would not exist.

  • funny how they seem to hide the fact that the winner is a small glider company from Slovenia, EU, called Pipistrel, see here: http://www.pipistrel.si/news/pipistrel-won-the-nasa-green-flight-challenge-for-the-third- [pipistrel.si]

    and they have been winning this challenge for 3 years in a row now!

  • Airport taxes get higher. Freedom suffers.

    If you could use your time off to live in Thailand for two weeks on $200 wouldn't you? Even if it took 22 hours to fly there?

Today is a good day for information-gathering. Read someone else's mail file.