NASA Announces $1.5 Million Prize For 200 Person-mpg Flight

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NASA announced last week that as part of its Centennial Challenges program, it will fund a $1.5 million prize for the first aircraft that can average at least 100 mph on a 200-mile flight while achieving greater than 200 passenger miles per gallon. A competition is scheduled for July 2011 in Santa Rosa, Calif., which will be hosted by the Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency (CAFE) Foundation. A variety of innovative experimental aircraft using electrical, solar, biofuel or hybrid propulsion are expected to enter, NASA said. Several major universities and aircraft builders have expressed their intention to enter teams in the challenge. The competition is expected to advance the development of technologies that will promote efficiency, conservation, and the use of zero-carbon energy sources, according to NASA's news release. This is the largest prize ever offered for a general aviation competition, according to CAFE.

A $150,000 prize for best score by a bio-fueled aircraft is also offered, as well as an honorary achievement prize of $153,000, which may be awarded to the top competitor if nobody takes the top prize. Teams must pay a fee of $4,000 to $8,000 and submit a design proposal to register for the competition with CAFE. Team leaders must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. CAFE said a maximum of 18 competitors will be accepted. Wingspan for competing aircraft is limited to 44 feet, so they can fit inside the CAFE Flight Test Center hangar for weighing (wing folding or tip removal is an option). The hangar parameters also restrict aircraft height to 13 feet and length to 23 feet.