Singapore students build ultralight, electric, flying trike

The Delta weighs a mere 108 pounds.

As more and more electric craft take to the skies, a group of students from the National University of Singapore have built their own, less conventional vehicle. The three-wheeled paraglider is not dissimilar from many other ultralight aircraft that you may see circling airshows or taking off from your local airstrip. The Delta, as it is called, is different in that it's powered by electricity instead of fossil fuels, and because "it is the lightest aircraft in the world that can take off and land with wheels while carrying an adult pilot."

The Delta flies at a maximum speed of about 22 miles per hour.

Its frame, made from carbon fiber and aluminum, includes a roll cage to protect the pilot. Nets separate the pilot from the carbon fiber propellers in the rear. Lithium polymer batteries provide the energy for the pair of eight-kilowatt electric motors, which both propel the trike and help engage the parachute during takeoff. A small display helps the pilot keep track of the remaining charge in the battery. The Delta, which seats but one occupant, flies at a maximum speed of about 22 miles per hour, with 10 minutes of flight time between charges. Mercifully, a charge time of just 45 minutes will have the eager adventurer back up in the air again after that.

A team of eight students led by NUS professor Martin Henz undertook the development of The Delta electric power paraglider for the National Geographic Channel's Machine Impossible series. The producers challenged the team to build an aircraft of any form within a certain budget that, most importantly, is fun to fly. "Such projects have tremendous value in the education of our students in engineering," says Henz. He notes that while it's not exactly meant as a form of practical transportation, "The Delta could possibly be a great contribution to the sport of paragliding." He says they'll likely create more sustainable recreational vehicles in the future.

And the students do, indeed, seem to value the experience. "Designing and building The Delta was an experience like no other," says electrical engineering student Chan Wai Yang. He adds, "It was an engineering challenge we greatly relished."

The Delta had its maiden voyage in March of this year at the Sungai Rambai Aerodome in Malacca, Malaysia, which was a successful flight. While the accomplishment of The Delta is certainly one to be proud of, those solitary ten minutes in the air are likely the greatest reward.

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