Sometimes, I'm glad our readers are paying attention because I'm not sure we always are. By "we," I mean the editorial we; the crack, watchdog aviation press. Specifically, I'm referring to the FAA's hangar policy toward homebuilding that escaped the Level 4 bio containment last week and never should have.
It set the AVweb (and KITPLANES) mailboxes alight for a couple of days. During AirVenture, we broke the story that the FAA's new airport use policy considers homebuilding to be a "non-aeronautical activity." Absurd on its face, right? Well, yes, but the policy statement still made it alive out of 800 Independence. EAA published this somewhat obscure story on the policy just ahead of AirVenture. Although the policy clearly lists building airplanes as a non-aviation activity, the story wasn't clear on that point. A sharp-eyed AVweb reader, alerted by his airport manager, contacted us and we chased it down.
The EAA today released a statement clarifying their position on the draft hangar usage policy that the FAA released for comment two weeks ago. In the draft statement. the FAA recognized only the "Final Assembly" of a homebuilt aircraft as an Aeronautical Activity, and this has troubled many homebuilders who have already made comments to the public docket. The EAA has recognized the potential for future misinterpretation of this phrase, and states in their news release that "...we do not agree with the draft language regarding finally assembly stipulations. EAA will ask the FAA to consider all active aircraft construction as an aeronautical activity. We believe any type of active homebuilding meets the standard of aeronautical activity and EAA will fight for that language."
As we walked around the grounds at Wittman Filed in Oshkosh this weekend, it became apparent that there is new emphasis on the old ways--homebuilding and Experimental aviation are back! AirVenture 2014 officially opens Monday, but the field is already crowded with Experimental aircraft from all over the country--and indeed, the world. No matter if you're interested in wood, metal, fabric, or composites, you'll find examples of every type, and every speed range imaginable. Biplanes? They've got 'em! Experimental Jets? Present! Sailplanes, bush planes, evening cruisers? All here.
Kitplanes own Dean Sigler (Alternative Energies) attended this year's Electric Aircraft Symposium in Santa Rosa, CA as part of the faculty for the event, and filed this report in order to keep our readers up to date on the burgeoning new technologies in electrical propulsion and aircraft designed to use it. Watch for additional reports here and in the magazine as we keep abreast of the action in the world of "green flight".
Paul Dye, EIC
It was a humble effort in the midst of the intellectual horsepower and design know-how on display. Barnaby Wainfan, a regular contributor to Kitplanes, gave a brilliant review of what it would take to make an efficient STOL airplane. His experience with the Facetmobile and knowledge of other low-aspect ratio aircraft showed that airplanes that can take off and land in short distances and still cruise at reasonable speeds might look very different from our current ideas of such craft. https://www.linkedin.com/pub/barnaby-wainfan/8/190/911
Battery developers showed up with promising new developments. Dr. Qichao Hu of MIT and his start-up company, SolidEnergy, discussed his ultra-high energy density lithium battery – not five years out, but due later this year in small formats and next year in larger sizes. http://www.solidenergysystems.com/
Dr. Avetik Harutyunyan , chief materials scientist for Honda in Columbus, Ohio, talked about “Lithium Storage Capacity in Carbon Nanostructures,” showing research on possible structural, high energy materials including carbon nanotubes, boron and graphene flakes – all impressive and promising. http://www.honda-ri.com/news100109.php
Attendees saw a variety of motors, starting with Dr. Ajay Misra’s 3D printed ones, which incorporate nano-magnets for greater energy density. These technologies have the potential to increase the maximum energy product in magnets, new electromagnet design, and reduce volume, weight and costs for future motors. https://rt.grc.nasa.gov/main/people/dr-ajay-misra/
David Calley, CEO of PlanetRider, profiled his transverse flux low-RPM, high power density motor, something that could find a place on the electric STOL aircraft espoused by CAFE’s Dr. Brien Seeley and NASA’s Dr. Mark Moore. The ability to swing a big prop slowly is crucial to noise reduction and top climb performance. Smaller versions are in use bicycles and Calley’s idea for a hybrid commuter vehicle. He noted motors that could produce 40 kW per kilogram (24 hp per pound), a seeming fantasy, but coming to a reality near us sooner than we might think. http://myplanetrider.com/home
Dr Qichao Hu from the University of Miami, showed the work he and graduate students have been doing on forward-swept propellers, an approach to producing more thrust and lower noise. Wind tunnel and computer flow dynamics (CFD) simulations are bearing out these thoughts. So far the blades swept 20 degrees forward have the highest efficiencies and stall margin of the swept configurations studied.
Calin Gologan, CEO of PC-Aero in Germany, and George Bye of Bye Aerospace (America) did a joint presentation on manned and unmanned aircraft using practical solar-electric propulsion systems. Gologan’s firm has flown Elektra One, a single-seater offered with a retractable central main wheel or a fixed tricycle gear. Variations include a two-seater tandem airplane, with one scheduled to make record flights to 75,000 feet on battery and solar power. Other models include a side-by-side trainer, and an unmanned civilian version that could be autonomous under 30,000 feet.
George Bye told about the fate of his firm’s electric Cessna 172, which did fly 25 times and had a motor controller “the size of a grapefruit.” The project is now abandoned, replaced with a probably better alternative in a tricycle-geared, 440-pound Sun Flyer trainer that will cost $10 an hour to operate. Its 80-hp motor and 250-kilowatt hour per kilogram batteries would allow an hour’s training, and its quick-swap battery packs will enable rapid turnarounds to keep students flying. He hopes to have it at Oshkosh this year, where airshow goers will have to be told when Sun Flyer is in the air, since its projected 55-dBa noise signature won’t be heard over the general din. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUz16polZyI His company also builds unmanned aerial vehicles and he discussed manually flying them at lower altitudes and allowing full autonomy, something also of interest to the next speaker.
John Langford closed out the pre-lunch festivities with a talk on manned unmanned aircraft – a direction he thinks UAVs are headed. His video of a modified DA-42 his company, Aurora Aviation, calls the Centaur, was a preview of what autonomous aircraft might accomplish daily in the near future. The pilot does not touch the controls from takeoff through cruise to a final perfect touchdown. The aircraft has a safety pilot, something the FAA will probably insist on for early applications of this technology. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5WlSMAsg10M
The company’s lineup of unmanned aircraft of various sizes is part of their over two score such craft built in their 24 year history. http://www.aurora.aero/Index.aspx
We’ll follow with two more reports – one for the afternoon sessions on Friday, April 25, and the second for the Saturday morning sessions. The breadth and depth of presentations was exciting and challenging, and worth noting for future reference.
Veteran Kitplanes writer / photographer Tom Wilson is seen here, working on a cover shot for an upcoming Retro Flight Review of the Starduster - a still popular plans-built aerobatic biplane. As Tom likes to point out, sometimes, you have to go to great heights to get just the right angle. Kitplanes recognizes that while the latest and greatest designs are always popular, many builders continue to lust over designs they have followed for years. These airplanes are our heritage and the foundation of the homebuilding world, and deserve just as much coverage for those who want to feel the wind in their hair and see the world through struts and wires.
One of the best parts about working for KITPLANES is the opportunity I get to wander around a large show like Sun 'n Fun and talk with builders, pilots, and vendors about our industry, the show, and their impressions of what is going on. I have been to Sun 'n Fun the past three years, and while we have all been a bit worried about the level of focus on Experimentals and the state of the market, I can tell you that to me, this year seems to be better than I remember. While the Experimental world is far from being the focus of Sun 'n Fun, I have not seen a tremendous drop-off in attendance by the companies who support our industry and usually attend the big shows. A few have stopped doing Sun 'n Fun because of travel costs and a lower percentage of visitors from the Experimental world—but many are right where they have always been—and to my eye, they have remained busy.