Erik Lindbergh, grandson of Charles, has launched a prize intended to promote the development of practical electric-powered aircraft. The Lindbergh Electric Aircraft Prize (LEAP) is a series of awards for the best electric aircraft, subsystem and component technology, plus a public choice award designed to gauge wider interest in the subject.
The winners will be announced in July at the Expermental Aircraft Association's AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. There will be a cash purse, says Lindbergh, but the amount will depend on the level of sponsorship secured.
Lindbergh says LEAP is a "recognition prize", designed to acknowledge accomplishment, rather than an "incentive prize" - like the Ansari X-Prize - offering a reward large enough to motivate a major breakthrough. An X-Prize was studied, he says, but electric power techology is advancing so rapidly there was a high risk that any prize goal would be quickly surpassed. Lindbergh's Creative Solutions Alliance, architect of LEAP, is still studying an alternative-fuels X-Prize for the FAA, he says.
There are some wrinkles to the LEAP. The winners of the best electric aircraft, subsystem and component technology prizes will be chosen only from among products on display at this year's AirVenture show. But if you can't make it to Oshkosh, don't despair, the public choice award will be open to any electric aircraft, flying anywhere in the world, "whether practical or not". That will allow the Solar Impulse, stuck in Switzerland, to be a contender, Lindbergh says.
And in case you doubt there is such a thing as a practical electric-powered aircraft, take a look at the Yuneec E430 from China, which made its debut at last year's Oshkosh. The E430 is a two-seat light sport aircraft with a 40kW electric motor powered by 80kg of lithium-polymer batteries, providing up to 120min of flying time.
But the LEAP is not the only prize out there for ultra-environmental aircraft: The Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency (CAFE) Foundation is organizing the 2011 Green Flight Challenge (GFC), a flying competition with a prize purse of $1.65 million provided by NASA's Centenniel Challenges program.
The GFC is open to aircraft with electric, solar, biofuel, hybrid or other form of propulsion, and eight teams have registered so far for the 2011 event, to be held in mid-July at Santa Rosa, California. Competitors must be able to average at least 100mpg over a 200-mile flight while achieving more than 200 passenger-miles per gallon. The prize for the aircraft with the best performance is $1.5 million. Another $150,00 is available for the best biofuel aircraft.
PS: This post's title is a nod to Gary Numan's 'Are Friends Electric?'