Tuesday, February 5, 2008

French Pilot Flies First Manned Electric Plane

Posted on Thu Jan 10 2008
By: Ianto Everett

Electric planes are nothing new - if you count remote control enthusiasts flying model aircraft around the local park, but in France in late December, pilot and test engineer Christian Vandamme successfully flew the first full size electric airplane.
The Electra F-WMDJ is built from wood and fabrics and powered by lithium polymer batteries and on December 23rd the aircraft took off from near the Southern Alp town of Gap and flew for 48 minutes around the Alps, achieving a flight distance of 50 kilometers (30 miles).
The French company APAME, who developed the aircraft, was launched only 18 months ago with finance from various French aerospace companies, and while this is still a fairly short distance it proves that the concept works, and APAME are committed to developing a commercially viable airplane for leisure pilots.
In the past the major hurdle for electric powered aircraft has been the weight of the battery, but with rapidly developing battery technology, electric aircraft look set to become a viable option; and as APAME state, as well as being environmentally friendly, a major advantage for pilots is the vast reduction in fuel costs. The company estimate that their engine, which costs around the same price as a standard engine, costs only one Euro per hour to run, compared to around 60 Euros per hour for a conventional airplane.
Earlier this year the company also successfully performed a test flight of a mono-wing microlight style aircraft, and have other designs in development. It's not just private aircraft that may soon be flying greener, however, as both NASA and Boeing are researching hydrogen fuel cell powered commercial passenger jets, and Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Airlines, has invested millions of dollars into researching greener fuel options.
And now ? There is a lot of work to be made before seeing of numerous ultralights and small planes flying with an electric engine ! But this flight shows that it's possible.

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