The U.S. Might Not Lead In Electric Flight
Sometimes it seems to me that one of the biggest challenges facing American innovators in the pursuit of practical electric aircraft may simply be how American business works. For a long time now, I've been talking to some key U.S. players in this game of private electric aircraft development and one thing seems clear. If these people would just work together we'd probably have a fairly reasonable product by now.
But business is mostly about competition, not cooperation. So, here we are awaiting the dawn of practical personal electric aviation ... mostly because of batteries (we need better ones) ... but also because here in the U.S. one genius won't work with the other genius because they figure that if they do, the other will steal the shirt off his back and feed it to him. That's business. It's just not particularly good for progress.
To the point: I've been in contact with the player in the U.S. who may be best positioned to create the best airframe for the job; another who likely has the best controller and powerplant; and another that may be best equipped to get the product to market. They're each pursuing their own electric aircraft and each have specialized and deep knowledge that fills in and complements the other. As it is, all these people are in competition. In a lot of cases, that means they're all trying to learn from scratch for themselves things the other already knows.
Some of the best and brightest in U.S. electric flight are just as busy innovating as they are shielding each other from their own proprietary designs and patents, plans for distribution control ... and potential profits. And they're all in pursuit of what physical laws and practicality dictate will essentially be the same two-seat electric aircraft. It's like they're all hacking their way through the jungle on their own, headed for the same destination. The process all but guarantees they'll get there later, and with substantially less finesse, than if they'd been working together on the same path while sharing information. Sure, we'll get a product out of it. We'll just get it later, and rougher than it could have been with a little cooperation.
It is what it is and this system has somehow managed to beat out a lot of others through the years. And if it does that again this time, time will resolve the development issues that lack of teamwork leaves behind. Besides, as I mentioned, battery technology still needs time to develop.
But the real bear in this race is that there are places in the world that don't play by these rules. And if anyone, anywhere, manages to collect a group of people like the ones I mentioned, funds them and persuades them to cooperate with one another they'll beat the pants off of the U.S. individuals all fighting to be the one at the top. If there's an upside to that equation it may be this: if there is a big winner, at least we'll see them at OSH.