Because he's quick like that. And lucky.

Chip Yates has, in a few short months, converted a Burt Rutan-designed Long-EZ airplane to battery power and, at the same time, undergone all the flight training necessary to get his pilot's license. On Wednesday, he took his renamed Long-ESA (Electric Speed & Altitude) on its maiden voyage. On Thursday, he took to the skies above Inyokern Airport for the second time and set an unofficial speed record of 202.6 miles per hour. It might have been his last flight. Ever.

To save time, Yates installed the same battery pack that have been in his record-setting electric motorcycle last year. During its last bit of heavy usage on the Bonneville Salt Flats, it had begun to shows signs of significant voltage sag under throttle. In fact, it couldn't put out anywhere near the 250 horsepower the UQM motor could have handled. Still, compact, with just under 12-kWh worth of energy storage, it fit nicely into the plane and it seemed robust enough for some early test flights. Emphasis on "seemed." (More below.)
The early part of the sophomore flight was as flawless as its inaugural stretch of the wings. With something in the neighborhood of 200 hp on tap, the light airframe accelerated briskly as Chip slowly rolled on juice, easily leaving the Cessna chase plane behind. Buoyed by the performance, he decided to push the speed envelope a bit and, at close to full throttle, found himself in record-setting territory. Then it happened.

Just after starting a turn back toward the airport to make a low pass, warning lights flashed and the cabin filled with the sickly-sweet smell of battery death. Trouble. He had pushed some cells past their limits and they had begun venting gases from the over-taxed electrolyte. Scratch the victorious flyby. He informed the tower that he would come in for a landing. The motor had kept spinning in those first few moments but soon all power was lost and Chip found himself low and unaligned with the runway.

Luckily, he kept his cool and the determination to complete the turn, but it was close. Just feet above the tarmac the plane became parallel with the strip and Chip stuck the dead-stick landing with only a bit of a bounce. Both he and the plane will fly again.

When it does take to the air again, Long-ESA will have a new, more capable battery pack that should be able to bring the craft up to the 250-mph rating of its custom Catto prop. First, though, Yates is bringing the electric bird to the 2012 EAA AirVenture Oshkosh event where he will present his flight data and allow the public to take a close up look.

You can see it in action for yourself now by scrolling below for a bit of video from the flight, accompanied by the official press release with more details.




Show full PR text
Chip Yates Becomes World's Fastest Electric Aircraft Pilot by Breaking the 200-MPH Barrier for the First Time

Inyokern Airport, California, July 20, 2012----Infinite-range electric aerospace company Flight of the Century, Inc. (www.flightofthecentury.com) announced today that their all-electric Long-ESA achieved a speed of 202.6-MPH during its second ever test flight on July 19, 2012 at Inyokern Airport in California.

The feat marks the second time within the past 12 months that Yates has exceeded 200 MPH in an electric vehicle of his own design – the first being his roadracing superbike which earned 8 official FIM World Records at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Sept, 2011 and currently holds the Guinness World Record title of "World's Fastest Electric Motorcycle".

Purchased by Flight of the Century (FOTC) in April, 2012 as an R&D plane for development of the company's patented mid-air recharging technology, the highly modified Rutan Long-EZ (now "Long-ESA" for Electric Speed & Altitude) underwent a complete restoration and conversion from gasoline power to all-electric power in just two months at FOTC headquarters.

The unprecedented test program then moved to FOTC's Inyokern Airport facility, with a first taxi test July 14th, first runway test July 16th, first flight July 18th, and world record flight July 19th.

FOTC is engaged in a cooperative relationship with the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, who deployed high speed telemetry, radar and tracking cameras to capture Yates' historic flight adjacent to their restricted airspace. After the flight, officials from China Lake visited the FOTC hangar at Inyokern Airport to corroborate the flight data, which will presented at Oshkosh.

Military and special operations interest in FOTC's unique high speed, long/infinite range electric manned and UAV technology is piqued because radar has difficulty locking onto the composite structure and infrared cameras struggle to find any measurable heat signature from the all-electric powerplant to track with.

"Our ability to fly long and fast without detection has definitely raised some eyebrows", said FOTC CEO and test pilot Chip Yates. "I want to see our high-performance electric powertrain and mid-air recharging systems used to advance the cause of electric airplanes in general, and in the short term, the military applications are really interesting".

FOTC engineers have abbreviated and expedited the initial taxi/flight test program in order to quickly generate data, video and knowledge to share with some 550,000 attendees at the 2012 EAA AirVenture Oshkosh event, which runs July 23-29, 2012 (airventure.org) and where the record-setting Long-ESA will be on central display along with Chip's Guinness World Record holding electric superbike in the Innovations Hangar-South.

Following Oshkosh, the company intends to equip the Long-ESA with a custom designed lithium-ion series of battery packs and a front-mounted recharging probe to test mid-air tethering and battery jettison & rebalance technologies. The company expects a top speed of 230-250 MPH with the full-size battery pack in place in September. Attempts at world records for altitude will follow.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 32 Comments
      Levine Levine
      • 2 Years Ago
      It's not all luck that he made it back alive. His choice of a Rutan is a wise one as its unusual canard design plus composite material give the airframe one of the highest lift to weight ratio for a powered aircraft.
      Nick
      • 2 Years Ago
      Electric aircraft appear to be in their infancy, but things could get very interesting once technology has evolved further (a decade or less..) and large capital starts flowing in (possibly via Elon Musk). As some have pointed out below, there are a number of challenges that need to be tackled, including the low efficiency of propellers at high speeds, etc.
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Nick
        Nick Here,s the inherent problem with props (in a nutshell): Eventually you start running into the limitations of a prop anyways. As your speed goes up, the flight path of the prop blade becomes more and more straight ahead and less sideways; consequently, the lift generated by the blade more and more turns into rotational resistance and less into thrust. In other words, the thrust generated by the prop falls off as you get faster. So you reach the point of diminishing returns where the engine is no longer imparting any power into the air and its thrust, as well as, its efficiency drops to nearly zero. As far as we know it, there is no way around to avoid this.
          Nick
          • 2 Years Ago
          Are there other types of propulsion systems out there, that don't require props, but which can still run on electricity? How about the jet-ski system (but using air), with a small air inlet, big enclosed motor in the center, and small high-pressure outlet in the back? This way the contact surface of fan blades with the oncoming wind would be greatly recuced....and air can be slowed down before it reaches the internal fan..?
          • 2 Years Ago
          Nick Simply: all sorts of prop's efficiency rapidly decreases with speed, while the jet's efficiency greatly increases with it. Thus, due to these inherent virtues, no point in using any kind of even mega-hyper-super props at high speeds.
          JakeY
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Nick Your idea of slowing the intake air speed is actually the way a supersonic electric jet would be theoretically built (in addition there would be an electric air compressor to raise the air temperature to increase the exit air velocity). It's not as impossible as krisztiant wants to make it out to be. "Low Speed (Electrically-powered) Supersonic Flight... The electric motor and compressor would be housed in a straight tube intake pipe that would be flowed by a section of gently increasing diameter. A shock wave at the entrance of the pipe would see air speed drop from Mach 1.5 to Mach 0.7. The air temperature would rise from minus 40-degrees F to 95-degrees F. An electrically driven axial flow (single spool) compressor operating at 93% isentropic efficiency and having a pressure ratio of 8 to 1 would further increase air temperature to 580-degrees F. " That's good enough for Mach 1.5 flight. For Mach 2-2.4 flight, a burning fuel like hydrogen would be required (the article proposes using electrolysis to generate it, but at that point the aircraft may be better off using hydrogen directly). http://evworld.com/article.cfm?storyid=1248&first=5583&end=5582
          Nick
          • 2 Years Ago
          I think you misunderstood my point. An internal fan could be set up in a way that greatly reduces air speed as it enters the fan........simulating the conditions of a low speed flight.....where props are most efficient.
      Ryan
      • 2 Years Ago
      Shouldn't he have done a few easy test runs first? Maybe he did. Cool airplane. My co-worker was building one in his basement. I'm surprised it was as loud as it is. I thought it would have been quieter.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Now that was a real range anxiety, which clearly raised the Hamletian dilemma: To be or not to be? #thatisthequestion
        DaveMart
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Anne: Surely the 'range anxiety' kris was referring to was subsequent to the battery failing, when he did not know if he could get back to the airfield or would crash.
          Anne
          • 2 Years Ago
          @DaveMart
          Oh. I was thinking it had more to do with running out of juice, but yeah, it is true that in an aeroplane, every 'unexpected event' instantly turns in to range anxiety.
        Anne
        • 2 Years Ago
        The article states it was the battery fhat malfunctioned, nothing to do with 'range anxietey'.
          Anne
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Anne
          @Krisztiant, Range anxiety is the fear of running out of juice. As long as the plane performs predictably, there is no more range anxiety than with hydrocarbons (which btw can run out too: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avianca_Flight_52 ) There will be a shorter range, yes, but as long as you're not stupid enough to set out on a 400 km flight knowing your battery is good for 200, why would you experience any anxiety? Pilots usually plan their journeys better than motorists.
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Anne
          Anne, "Pilots usually plan their journeys better than motorists." Actually, I have license to fly unpowered aircrafts (as a hobby / sport), thus, you are explaining what pilots do to a pilot.  However, let's see now what Boeing says about electric aircrafts after flied the first ever battery fuel cell plane: "Boeing Flies First Ever Battery Fuel Cell Plane!" "Boeing says fuel cells are unlikely to be able to power a larger commercial plane, but they can certainly be used for smaller planes, unmanned aircraft and to power the smaller, secondary systems of large airliners. " http://m.inhabitat.com/transportation-tuesday-boeing-flies-first-fuel-cell-plane/ The main disadvantage of battery only aircrafts (apart from the low energy density / extreme heaviness / long recharge time), that unlike fuels which simply "disappear" after generating power (making the plain gradually lighter), batteries don't do this. That's why Boeing used fuel cells, which in addition, effectively eliminates the range anxiety issue / can be refilled in no time.
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Anne
          Anne, Even if the battery doesn't malfunction in an aircraft its current extremely low energy density creates range anxiety anyways and in the air range anxiety simply means: To be or not to be. And it's range anxiety in a whole new dimension.
      • 2 Years Ago
      It is also an easy airplane to fly and has an excellent glide ratio.
      Ashton
      • 2 Years Ago
      electric aircraft, like electric cars, is the the future. But unlike electric cars, its not in the near future.
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Ashton
        Ashton Electric aircrafts are a whole lot different things than electric cars, since "EV" aircrafts (due to the electric motor) can only use props. Props have more power at low speeds and rapidly lose power at higher speeds, while jet engines behave the exact opposite (i.e. at high speeds jets are way more efficient than props). That's why airlines use bypass engines (aka turbofans), which are in effect a hybrid of a jet and a prop engine, therefore you get improved thrust and higher energy efficiency at low speeds in return for reduced thrust at high speeds (a trade off due to the prop part of the hybrid engine). It's fairly evident that turbofans / jets cannot be electric, thus electric aircrafts could only be a niche segment of low speed private and special purpose aircrafts (+the now real serious range anxiety issue), therefore, airlines (and all full function aircrafts) will "forever" need some kind of renewable fuel due to the inherent nature of turboprops / jets. Conclusion: because of the serious limitation of props the electric aircraft is not the future.
          DaveMart
          • 2 Years Ago
          @kris: I am not sure about using the wings for hydrogen storage whilst we continue to use CF tanks to do the job. They are not flexible in their configuration, and hydrides or such would seem to be needed.
          Mart
          • 2 Years Ago
          Supersonic electric flight is deemed possible by a number of people, including Elon Musk. http://www.evworld.com/article.cfm?storyid=1248 http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/oct2011/2011-10-04-01.html --"Two years ago the thought of flying 200 miles at 100 mph in an electric aircraft was pure science fiction," said Jack Langelaan, team leader of Team Pipistrel-USA.com. "Now, we are all looking forward to the future of electric aviation." Pipistrel will donate a part of their $1.35 million prize money towards the prize for the next challenge, the goal of which will be to produce a supersonic electric aircraft.--
          DaveMart
          • 2 Years Ago
          Fanwing: 'It has a fixed wing but can autorotate like a helicopter. It has two engines, but they are at either end of the wing. It has two booms instead of one. Its inventor is American, but this invention has been developed in England and Italy. Its lift efficiency is so good that university studies in the United Kingdom have concluded 100 horsepower could lift 5,732 pounds. This has been proven through wind-tunnel testing at Imperial College London, work carried out at Kingston University London, and scale-model flight tests funded by the development agency of London, England, and the U.K. government’s equivalent of the U.S. federal department of commerce. The aircraft’s efficiency is achieved because the air is accelerated twice: First the rotor accelerates it as the blades rise from the front bottom to the top and then again as the rotor moves back toward the wing’s trailing edge. The FanWing has two engines for redundancy. One engine can keep the aircraft in the air and give it the power to climb. But if the worst happens pilots can autorotate down with a glide ratio of about 3:1. Peebles likes to say the FanWing is similar to a helicopter but with a much simpler drive train.' http://www.aopa.org/aircraft/articles/2011/111122could-fanwing-go-from-lsa-to-heavy-lifter.html?WT.mc_id=&wtmcid;&WT.mc_sect=tts High efficiency and electric drive trains go together, in my book.
          • 2 Years Ago
          Mart "Supersonic electric flight is deemed possible..." It maybe deemed possible, but here's your supersonic electric flight. S-MAGJET; Supersonic-Magnetic Advanced Generation Jet Electric Turbine) It still uses fuels, such as: Fuel Type; Jet-A, JP-4 and JP-7 (E.g. JP-4 is a mixture of aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons) And then it also has: - Ignition; electromagnetic superconducting pulse phase start and continuous pulse phase power in a ion plasma starter configuration - Exhaust; plasma accelerated control and thrust attenuation, - magnetic levitation turbine engines http://hypermach.com/the-science It would sound futuristic maybe even in a Star Trek movie, while still using hydrocarbons as an electric flight. Interesting...
          DaveMart
          • 2 Years Ago
          Hmm, the non-viability of electric jets does not seem to be obvious to everyone. Google turns up lots of hits, although of course we are talking some time away, and most use superconductors. I quite like this, currently non-electric. prospective design:
          • 2 Years Ago
          Dave, Yes, the prop efficiency part does apply, but the battery energy density (excessive weight / range anxiety)  part does not, therefore, small private plane engines (like e.g. Cessna / 2-6 passengers) can be easily substituted by fuel cells with the additional advantage of being even lighter - at the same performance level - than ICEs.  Also, in a plane there are lots of places (wings etc.) for storing hydrogen, which (H2) has also an additional advantage of having greater energy density than gasoline / kerosene etc. by a factor of three. And this virtue of the fuel cells - i.e. considerable lightness + proven high reliability / no range anxiety - is an extremely important advantage at aviation. Thus, in case of small private / hobby / sport planes (maybe even small helicopters too), fuel cells presumably have a bright future as a replacement of the tried-and-true ICE engines.
          DaveMart
          • 2 Years Ago
          I managed to miss out the link to the design I like: http://www.fanwing.com/ STOL, large, long rotors, this seems to me to have electric written all over it.
          JakeY
          • 2 Years Ago
          @krisztiant It's possible to built a supersonic electric jet (Mach 1.5) by reducing the intake air speed (by gently increasing the intake diameter) and using an electric compressor to increase exit air velocity. Fuel is not required. http://evworld.com/article.cfm?storyid=1248&first=5583&end=5582 Such a design would likely also be how a supersonic fuel cell powered jet would be designed.
          DaveMart
          • 2 Years Ago
          The neat thing about using fuel cells in light aircraft is that they are already going to using hydrogen to avoid the pollution from aircraft taxiing, and so hydrogen will be available already at increasing numbers of airports.
          DaveMart
          • 2 Years Ago
          Presumably that also applies to fuel cell aeroplanes?
          • 2 Years Ago
          Dave, It has very little literature yet, but  hydrogen fuel cell aircrafts must be designed differently than conventional ones e.g. like  the blended wing body configuration (as a possible example): "The blended wing body (BWB) configuration promises significant improvements regarding the structural mass and the aerodynamic efficiency of an aircraft compared to the conventional aircraft configuration. This stems from a more even spanwise load distribution and the fact that the fuselage does not only produce drag as in case of conventional aircraft but also adds to the lift. Moreover, the BWB configuration appears especially appropriate for hydrogen applications as it offers a large ‘spare’ volume... that can be used for hydrogen storage... Or something like this design.
      • 2 Years Ago
      "Easy like Sunday morning" (as of today) here is a somewhat comprehensive answer on the issues raised about an imaginary "supersonic electric jet". E.g. like this: "It's possible to built a supersonic electric jet (Mach 1.5) by reducing the intake air speed (by gently increasing the intake diameter)..." Or this: "An internal fan could be set up in a way that greatly reduces air speed as it enters the fan........simulating the conditions of a low speed flight.....where props are most efficient." etc. Actually, that's what jets already do way more efficiently. Now, in my detailed reply I intentionally bypass any science fiction (e.g. anti-gravitation / levitation / teleportation etc.) and focus on the real science of this issue: Here it is: A jet engine imparts a much greater acceleration (compared to props) to a smaller amount of air.  Most of the jet’s thrust comes from heating the air. The air entering the engine is at atmospheric pressure; the air pressure leaving is only slightly higher, so the air must be leaving at a velocity that’s faster roughly in proportion to the amount by which it’s been heated. As the jet gets faster, the compressor effectively does less work in accelerating the air into the engine - more and more the air just flows in at the freestream velocity (the compressor still compress the air inside the engine.) At very high speeds the air is actually being decelerated at the intake to keep the compressor blades subsonic. This is accomplished by expanding the diameter of the intake duct. It causes intake drag but is still compensated by the acceleration at the other end from heating the air. With properly designed intakes, jet engines become even more effective at supersonic speeds. ======== MIND YOU: jet engines become even more efficient at supersonic speeds. Also: expanding the diameter of the intake duct causes drag, but in a jet engine it can easily be compensated. ======== At supersonic speeds the air must be decelerated even more at the intake, but this is now done with supersonic flow rather than subsonic flow. The supersonic flow causes shock waves that compress the air as it decelerates; the compression of the air increases the total mass flow and therefore the engine’s thrust. As the speed increases above Mach 1 the engine’s thrust also increases. ======= But, how can the jet exhaust flow faster than the speed of sound? ======= The answer is it doesn’t. The speed of sound in a gas is proportional to the square root of the temperature, so it is much faster in the hot engine exhaust, allowing it to flow much faster than at normal atmospheric temperatures. ========= Key: high engine temperature. ========= This should be already sufficient to understand why supersonic electric flight has too many obstacles compared to the incredibly simple and efficient jets.  Conclusion: even if we could accomplish the supersonic electric flight (at max. Mach 1.5) it is not really worth the hassle.
      RC
      • 2 Years Ago
      This dude is awesome. I can feel the adrenaline just watching. It is folks like him who moves us forward.
      tdfmd
      • 2 Years Ago
      Given the inherent reliability of electric motors with their few moving parts, perhaps hybrid system with a turbine generator (running on jut fuel, similar to an APC unit) is the current answer as battery technology evolves. As far as prop speed issues, can gearing down address this problem, with larger or multiple props turning more slowly? Also, why is electric do poorly suited for turbine or ducted fan motors? These seem to work in the RC plane model.
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