Experimenters have made great strides in recent years with electric power for small aircraft, and a step forward took place last week in Italy when a new battery-powered airplane flew for the first time, then two days later reached 155 mph, which is expected to be a new world record for the category. The SkySpark project is a joint enterprise between engineering company DigiSky and Turin Polytechnic University. The two-seat Pioneer Alpi 300 is powered by a 75-kW electric motor using brushless technology and lithium polymer batteries. Electronic control systems make it possible to modulate RPM and torque, "with dynamics which are far beyond what it is attainable in reciprocating engines," and the engine is very reliable and long-lasting, according to the SkySpark Web site.
The team now plans to focus on the next goal: an engine powered by hydrogen fuel cells. Meanwhile, Solar Impulse, a project to build a solar-powered airplane that will fly around the world, plans to unveil its prototype next week in Switzerland. The airplane has the wingspan of an Airbus (over 200 feet) and carries 11,628 solar cells to power four engines.