A little word association to start the day: Electric Vehicle – Clean, Expensive, Limited Range. Very good. Electric Airplane – ummmm, Slow?
If you’re thinking of a solar electric airplane that recently flew across the US and plans to circumnavigate the globe, then you would be right. Powered solely by solar panels plastered across its immense wingspan, the Solar Impulse flies at a leisurely 30mph.
Chip Yates is an inventor, some would say a reckless one, with a passion for speed. He raced motorcycles until a massive accident sidelined him and gave him time to think about his next bold project, an electric motorcycle. That electric motorcycle eventually went on to set speed records at Bonneville, 197mph, in 2011.
After retiring the motorcycle and donating it to a museum, Yates went about finding a way to use the 285hp electric motor powering it. Clearly, a 30mph jaunt across the Atlantic won’t do, so Mr. Yates’ electric airplane is built for speed, as well as distance.
The current design weighs about 26,000 pounds, 80% of which is batteries, and has a range of about 700 miles. In order to get across the Atlantic, recreating Charles Lindbergh’s historic flight from Long Island to Paris in 1927, Yates will need a bit more than 700 miles of range. Lindbergh’s flight, some 3,600mi, took 33.5hrs, which averages to about 108mph.
Yates plans on making the same flight, only this time, the flight will be all-electric. In order to get the extra range, Yates is designing flying battery-packs that will provide the energy needed to push across the Atlantic. Once each battery pack is used, it will return to its home base unattended.
The electric airplane will actually only use its onboard battery packs once far out over the ocean beyond the reach of his recharging pods. This is pretty impressive for someone who only just got his pilot’s license, but is this a visionary attempt or a reckless pursuit?