October 5, 2011
By Dan Namowitz
Slovenian lightplane manufacturer Pipistrel has won NASA's Green Flight Challenge with its Taurus G4 aircraft. The competition was held in September at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa, Calif., and managed for NASA by the Santa Rosa-based CAFE (Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency) Foundation.
The team from Pipistrel-USA of State College, Pa., captured a first prize of $1.35 million, presented Oct. 3 at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field in California. The second prize of $120,000 went to Team eGenius of Ramona, Calif.
NASA said the total prize awarded this year was the largest prize in aviation history for the winner of the challenge, which was “created to inspire the development of more fuel-efficient aircraft and spark the start of a new electric airplane industry.”
The Pipistrel team won by meeting the challenge of flying their twin-cockpit, four-seat single-engine aircraft 200 miles in less than two hours, using less than one gallon of fuel per occupant, or the equivalent in electricity.
NASA said both the first and second place teams “achieved twice the fuel efficiency requirement of the competition, meaning they flew 200 miles using just over a half-gallon of fuel equivalent per passenger.” Of the 14 teams that entered the competition, only three met all requirements. The competition culminated more than two years of research and development by the teams that collectively invested more than $4 million, NASA said.
“Two years ago the thought of flying 200 miles at 100 mph in an electric aircraft was pure science fiction,” said Jack W. Langelaan, Pipistrel-USA's team leader.
Pipistrel's 3,245-pound aircraft, designed especially for the competition made an appearance at the Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis., in July. Its centrally-mounted 200-hp electric engine is positioned on a wing center section between the cockpits. The aircraft's batteries weigh about 1,100 pounds.
In announcing that it had won the Green Challenge for the third time, Pipistrel issued a challenge of its own.
“Pipistrel's philosophy has always been to set a goal too high and then strive to achieve it,” the company said in a news release, offering to donate part of its prize money “toward the prize for the next challenge, the objective of which will be to produce a supersonic electric aircraft.”
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor.
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