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.
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.