The word green has gained negative implications with some individuals, but even the most diehard Exxon stockholder has to admit that there is something wickedly cool about an electric plane. I'm not talking about a toy — something with an electric motor that takes the place of a rubber band — this is an actual single seat aircraft with a range of over 400 km.
PC-Aero's Elektra One plane is one of the 13 entries in the NASA-funded 2011 CAFE Green Flight Challenge, which has a $1.65 million prize. The flight competition will be held July 11-17, 2011 at the CAFE Foundation Flight Test Center in Santa Rosa, CA. According to the CAFE Foundation site, "Team aircraft must fly 200 miles in less than two hours using the energy equivalent of less than 1 gallon of gasoline per occupant." Historically, competitions with cash prizes are help to move technology forward. For example, if it wasn't for the $25,000 Orteig Prize, Charles Lindbergh's N-X-211 (better known as The Spirit of St. Louis) might not have been built.
It's difficult to know where Elektra One's technology will lead, but with NASA funding the prize, it's possible to guess. Perhaps an electric plane will make the possibility of flying over the alien landscape of Mars or thru the Valles Marineris a reality (although it would probably be a robot doing the flying). Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The Elektra One, an aircraft that isn't reliant on terrestrial-based fuels, is this single step. Who knows, perhaps if Lao-tzu could fly instead of walk, maybe we'll go far beyond a thousand miles.
The Treehugger article, Elektra One Electric Plane's First Flight a Success!, includes the aircraft's specifications, and details and a video of its first flight, which we've embedded below.
Also check out the gallery, First in flight from the Wright Brothers' camera.