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NASA announces $1.5m prize for eco-plane inventors

Flying machines go green diddly green green

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Personal Green Air Vehicles are what we want, apparently

Now the process is complete, with the announcement last week of the Green Flight Challenge. Where once PAV enthusiasts competed for shortest takeoff, ease of handling and so forth, now green-flight contenders will strive primarily to get the most possible passenger-miles per gallon of fuel, with cruise speed as a secondary objective. PAV/flying-car priorities such as quietness, use of car engines rather than specialised aviation powerplants, very short takeoff capability etc have all been sidelined.

"A variety of innovative experimental aircraft that fly with either electricity, solar, bio-fuel or hybrid propulsion are expected to enter," according to CAFE.

Examples could include the Taurus Electro from Pipistrel, a glider with a battery-powered prop which can be used to take off and climb as high as 6,000 feet before gliding to land. Boeing have also developed a demonstrator - again in a glider airframe - capable of flying straight and level with one pilot aboard solely on fuel-cell power (though hybrid/supplementary battery boost is required for takeoff and climb).

The focus - at least in NASA's funding deliberations - would now appear to be firmly on greenness (or at least greenwash) for the existing light aviation sector, rather than on giving ordinary people access to the skies.

That said, the minimum passenger-miles per gallon figure to be a CGFC entrant is 200, which compares very favourably with road cars occupied by only one or two people - as road cars typically are. If such aircraft can be built at reasonable prices, and Western civilisation can be made to care seriously about reducing its fossil fuel consumption, logically CGFC-style green planes should become the most popular transport choice.

On the other hand the fact that they'll require expensive and time-consuming piloting skills, 2000-foot takeoff runs, 44-foot-wide garages, won't be roadworthy and will be as noisy as machine tools will tend to militate against that.

The full competition rules are available from CAFE in pdf here. ®

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