CAFE Symposium Explores Future Of Flight

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image: NASA

image: NASA

Our planet’s transportation systems are on the cusp of a radical change to “on-demand mobility,” according to several of the presenters at last week’s CAFE symposium in California. “The technology push and the market pull are converging,” said Bruce Holmes and Roger Parker, of AirMarkets Corp. “A large and growing market for ODM exists and is convergent with technologies for sustainability, safety, affordability and accessibility.” Florian Reuter, managing director of e-volo, said his company’s recent successful flight of its Volocopter design shows it’s possible to achieve “revolutionary simplicity in piloting, unprecedented safety and absence of emissions.” The message: Increasingly safe, autonomous aircraft driven by quiet, emissions-free propulsion systems will create new markets for urban, personal transportation.

Reuter added that e-volo plans to certify the Volocopter by the end of next year, distribute it to selected flight schools early in 2018 and start operational use by customers by the third quarter of 2018. Emerging markets for the technology could include an on-demand commuter network in Silicon Valley, or urban air travel for individuals, as soon as 2020, if existing regulations can be modified. NASA researcher Mark Moore also explored the potential for a VTOL air-taxi system in Silicon Valley. Launchpads could be sited at freeway cloverleafs, he said, using small aircraft that are quiet, efficient, highly redundant and reliable. “The convergence of distributed electric propulsion and autonomy is why this is possible in the next 10 years,” Moore said. AVweb will follow up with more details from CAFE, and an interview with Moore, later this week.

Comments (6)

Every time I hear the mention of "Flight Schools" for electric - I'm thinking there is another example of high expectations falling short so the solution lies in the flight school salvage. The reality is that the schools require even more energy because of the many touch and go patterns. I never could understand how a pilot could be certified to fly electric and assume that it automatically qualifies them to fly conventional fuel powered. Sounds like a dangerous approach. Many builders are still hooked on the dangerous NCR batteries that burn when high drain is needed say during climb rates. Schools are a good example of this high current demand. How do you explain to a student that electric is safer than fuel when the batteries can burst into flames on take-off? Is it really cheaper if a student pays with their life?
Here at Lineback C.E. we are taking a different approach. Our mission has been designing a 60 to 1 ratio plane with 99% efficient motors powered with battery cells so safe that you can drive a metal object through them and they will not burn. An optional charging system can extend the flight time to 4 hours. The controls are so advanced that additional schooling is virtually not needed.

Posted by: Don Lineback | May 25, 2016 6:54 AM    Report this comment

Please come to the next CAFE Electric Aircraft Symposium, Don. Your impressive claims would interest everyone in the industry - 60:1 glide ratios with 99% efficient motors and robust batteries... amazing.
With GA on a decades long decline, we welcome an infusion of new ideas. I think your claim that batteries will burn under high drain is unfounded. Batteries are designed for specific drain and charge rates, and the on-board BMS limits the use of energy for this reason. All current aircraft motors are running at approximately 95% efficiency, and battery technology is adequate for training missions of at least one hour, with battery swap available for multiple flights, making a good business case for electric training FBOs.
I suggest readers watch Pipestrel, Sun Flyer, E-volo, and now Lineback CE for significant contributions to GA in the very near future.

Posted by: John Palmerlee | May 25, 2016 11:29 AM    Report this comment

Correction to the spelling of Pipistrel. Their trainer currently in production is the Alpha Electro. Check it out at

Posted by: John Palmerlee | May 25, 2016 11:36 AM    Report this comment

Almost forgot to mention that NCR cells are only good for 500 charges. Our chemistry (which Tesla has changed over to) is good for 2,000 cycles. Solar Impulse was grounded in Hawaii for months getting new cells. They don't have to burn to go down hill. Most flight times are calculated at cruse and not continuous long climb rates such as in a school environment. I have a video from the factory showing one of our fully charged cells being cut up with a pair of scissors - never did burn. It is the safest battery made. Safety and reliability is at the top of my list.
If CAFE has any interest in our solutions - I'd be happy to help. We do not have grandiose ideas for electric flight and unrealistic dreams of the great battery of the future. We cannot create new chemistry, but what we can do is make the most of what we have and leave behind antiquated perceptions. For example - we would not put bicycle pedals on a car so neither would we put electric power on a commuter jet. We designed the plane first and saved the batteries for last.

Posted by: Don Lineback | May 25, 2016 1:04 PM    Report this comment

Many available Lithium Ion batteries are in the 1-2000 cycle range. NCR cells are one of numerous options. Our expectation is that many of the 2000 cycle batteries will be replaced by upcoming technologies in the near term.
Readers are encouraged to research some of these technologies - better cycle life, safety and energy density units are being studied. Each time a new technology is developed it is like creating a new battery - with all the testing and fine tuning required to make it production ready.
Also - lithium ion battery failures often arise from the following issues: manufacturing defects or improper cell management (BMS errors). These are akin to pilot error, and can be corrected through better manufacturing and system design.
To learn more about some of the various lithium ion battery technologies available today, the following is a useful source:

Posted by: John Palmerlee | May 25, 2016 4:10 PM    Report this comment

If you are considering a battery-electric airplane for flight instruction because you like the idea of having a reduced or zero carbon footprint, there is an alternative: Piston engine aircraft, like the Piper PA-28-140 I took a few flight lessons in years ago, where instead of avgas one uses ethanol. It will of course be necessary to rebuild the engine from the crankshaft centerline outward to make sure nothing that contacts the fuel will be degraded or dissolved, and the fuel system will have to be properly engineered and rigged as well. But concentrated ethanol offers the advantage of fine antiknock rating, thus solving the lead problem that has been vexing the aviation community for years.

Ethanol has a lower energy content than gasoline or jet fuel, hence for a given weight or volume one can't fly as far. But this is also true of battery-electric aircraft.

Posted by: Alex Kovnat | May 27, 2016 7:49 AM    Report this comment

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