Monday, October 3 was the second day of Nobel Prize announcements, but also marked the Green Flight Challenge Expo, sponsored by Google and staged under the control tower on Moffett Field, home of NASA Ames Research Center, Mountain View, California.
The four airplanes that flew in the Challenge at Charles M. Schulz Sonoma Country Airport in Santa Rosa, California were joined by Greg Stevenson’s full-size mockup of his GFC design and a Pipistrel Virus that had won an earlier NASA/CAFE Personal Air Vehicle (PAV) Challenge. Stevenson’s airplane was a reminder that there were numerous entrants that, for a variety of reasons, could not attend. There is a huge number of aircraft in the wings, so to speak, that will fill these pages in the next months and years.
20 exhibitors showed off their visions of a greener future, and three rows of tents protected exhibitors and their displays from the rain that started mid-afternoon.
At about 11:00 a.m., attendees were bussed to Building 3, which was crowded with media, including reporters and camera personnel for the local affiliates of ABC, CBS and NBC.
In opening remarks at the ceremony, Dr. Brien Seeley, head of CAFE, saw this as a “pivotal historic event,” with future aerial vehicles quiet, emissions free, and capable of landing anywhere – in other words, achieving bird-like flight.
Erik Lindbergh of the Lindbergh Electric Aircraft Prize (LEAP) awarded a $10,000 prize to team leader Eric Raymond and e-Genius for the quietest aircraft. e-Genius registered between 56 and 62 dBa during the takeoff tests on Monday. Compare this to normal conversation, which might range between 80-85 dBa. The prize money was donated by Jeannie Schulz, the famed cartoonist’s widow.
NASA’s acting Chief Technical Officer, Joe Parrish, recognized the GFC winners, and extolled the virtues of the prize system for accelerating technological development. Recounting other prizes that had produced significant outcomes, Parrish named the Orteig (Charles Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis) and Anzari X-Prize (Burt Rutan and Spaceship One), and thinks that the GFC will inspire a renaissance in aircraft technology. He noted that NASA and the American taxpayer benefited from funding such prizes, and that NASA “only pays if it works.”
Parrish explained that NASA’s $1.6 million investment had generated of $4 million in expenditures by competitors and produced two stunning results – the winners of the Challenge.
e-Genius took a second prize of $120,000 along with the Lindbergh quiet aircraft award of $10,000 (prize money donated by Charles Schulz’ widow Jeannie Schulz). Both it and the Pipistrel G-4 had flown the 200-mile course at better than 100 mph average and wildly exceeded the required 200 passenger miles per gallon economy goal. e-Genius reached 375.8 passenger miles per gallon.
The G-4 did even better – 403.5 PMPG.
The winner received not only a check for $1.3 million (equivalent to the current value of a Nobel Prize – 1 million Euros), but a stunning trophy created by local artist Ralph Carlson. Its bird-like design, echoing Dr. Seeley’s vision for future flight, was conceptualized by Seeley, his wife Anne, son Damon, and board member Bruno Mombrinie.
Jack Langelann, Pennsylvania State University aeronautics professor and Pipistrel team leader, explained that at the current 8 cents per kilowatt hour charge in his home state, the G-4 could be charged for a two-hour flight at a cost of $7.
This may have been even less costly in recharging from the CAFE Foundation’s special charging stations, installed just for the event, and the first designated electric charging station at any airport in the
world. Receiving their electricity from geo-thermal powered generators on nearby peaks in the Geyserville area, CAFE’s fliers flew “green” indeed.
Some disappointment was expressed by Jeff Shingleton of the Phoenix Air team that results for Phoenix and Eco-Air results were not yet available, but would be reported later in the week. The CAFE blog will announce these numbers as soon as they are available. Jeff also said that his team was shocked that electric aircraft could fly the course at all, let alone achieve such outstanding results.
Pipistrel founder and President Ivo Boscarol pledged to contribute $100,000 of the prize money to a future Challenge in which the goal would be the flight of the first electric-powered supersonic aircraft. This drew enthusiastic applause from the crowd and set a new and dazzling goal for visionaries.
Following the awards ceremony, covered thoroughly by all the local network news teams, the teams each performed flybys for the gathered throng, with rain finally putting an end to a gala day that heralds the dawn of a new golden age of aviation.