A symposium in April held in
Pipistrel is set to deliver the first commercially produced two-passenger electric aircraft by the end of the year, and could possibly lead a new wave of toys for the rich…but I highly doubt this will be the kick-off of the next preferred method of travel, as the attendees hope.
While the electric aircraft by Pipistrel are gliders, and therefore not allowed to fly under the same rules as light sport aircraft, the Federal Aviation Administration may change the rules, opening up the skies for more electric aircraft. Petitioning to alter government regulations to allow for more experimental aircraft to fly is one step light aircraft advocates are taking in their futuristic vision of switching travelers from cars to planes. The
While a cool invention, personal electric aircraft are entirely impractical for the lofty goal of “revolutionizing” the way we get around. Advocates say that greening up small aircraft will make it better to fly than drive. I give them that, but still say that how we live is more important than how we travel, and creating urban settings that make it practical to bike, walk, take a short solar-powered bus ride, or telecommute is far better than ridiculously expensive personal airplanes, no matter how efficient they are.
Despite this, NASA is forking over $2 million over five years as rewards for contests held by the CAFE Foundation, incentivizing those who work to boost efficiency and reduce noise on personal air vehicles. Additionally, this year's contest includes its first Green Prize of $50,000 for a craft that achieves at least 100 miles per hour and the equivalent of 100 miles per gallon. These are important goals to work towards, yes, but for flight in general, not travel in general.
Supporters of these competitions want to prove air travel can be the greenest from of transportation. Sure, for distance transportation, but how on earth is this a smart idea for daily to-and-from transportation? Richard Jones, a technical fellow at Boeing Phantom Works, believes that 20 years from now, precision navigation systems could make flying a compact plane easier than driving a car. "People will probably be reading a newspaper rather than flying the vehicles," he said. Um, I certainly hope not…both that people will be reading while flying, and that there will still be newspapers.
written by Carlos Barrera, February 16, 2009
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