Oct 28th

Electric Airplanes, Coming to a Flight School Near You - Trikes Next?

By Spencer Forman
Thanks to Wired Magazine:

Range. It seems to be the word that is in the middle of any debate about electric vehicles. As we discovered in our short flight in the E-Spyder, electric airplanes won’t be crossing the country any time soon on battery power. But there is already plenty of interest from pilots who look forward to the quiet, smooth flight, even if the early electric aircraft won’t provide anything close to the range of traditional small airplanes.

But flight schools are showing a strong interest, liking the low cost and simplicity of electric flight.

Flight times for two-seat electric aircraft in development already exceed 90 minutes. That might not be enough for a long cross-country flight, but it’s longer than the typical flight lesson lasts. And this is what has caught the attention of flight schools.

The commercial side of electric airplanes may be less about going places, and more about teaching student pilots how to fly. And the first electric student pilot has already flown solo, learning the basics entirely in a battery-powered airplane.

The history of electric aircraft is a relatively short one. At least the list of aircraft is short. Sure, the Tissandier brothers flew an airship flying under electric power in the 1880s. But it wasn’t until the late 1970s that electric airplanes started to take flight, and it was far from commonplace.

Many of those early electric airplanes flew on solar power, such as Larry Mauro’s Solar Riser, Paul MacReady’s Solar Challenger and Eric Raymond’s Sunseeker, which he flew across the United States in a series of 121 flights during the summer of 1990.

But these aircraft were pioneering, experimental airplanes, not the kind of airplane an average pilot could hop into and take off for an easy flight.

The short history of electric aircraft aimed at pilots who could buy one and fly only started in 2007 when Randall Fishman first flew his battery-powered trike hang glider and unveiled it to the world at Airventure Oshkosh.

Randall Fishman's ElectraFlyer-X

Since 2007, Fishman has gone on to build and fly an single-seat electric airplane based on a motor glider design and is currently finishing the design and construction of a two-place composite airplane he believes will compete with similarly sized light sport aircraft.

And Fishman isn’t alone. EADS, the parent company of Airbus, has converted the tiny Cri-Cri to electric power. And an Italian team flew the electric SkySpark at more than 150 miles per hour in 2009.

Airplanes closer to production include the E-Spyder ultralight we described yesterday and its big brother, Yuneec’s E430.

With a serious commitment of funds, China’s Yuneec appears poised to be the first company to sell an electric powered airplane to the public. Five of the two-seat E430s undergoing flight testing already include a pair here in the United States.

The company recently opened a 270,000-square-foot factory near Shanghai dedicated to electric aircraft manufacturing and will add another 200,000 square feet this spring.

Yuneec’s managing director Clive Coote says after first unveiling the E430 in Oshkosh last year, they received a lot of interest from pilots and flight schools. The company listened to the feedback and made several changes to the design.

The updated E430 includes easily removable wing tips that allow it to be stored in standard aircraft hangars, and the batteries can easily be swapped in less than four minutes. Coote says several flight schools were impressed by the design and, perhaps more importantly, the operating costs he says will be less than $10/hour.

“I think the flight school side in the states is going to be very, very big for electric.”

Coote says the two-seat E430 will sell for just under $90,000, tens of thousands of dollars less than many traditional gas-powered light sport aircraft. He says Yuneec is set to begin production next year and deliver the first models to customers in early 2012. With the swappable battery, Coote believes a flight school can operate the airplane all day with just two batteries. A boost charger can refill the electrons in less than 90 minutes and he adds the batteries can be balance-charged every night to increase longevity.

With more than 1500 cycles per battery, each battery pack should last between 2,000 to 3,000 flight hours, more than the typical gasoline engine the electric-power system replaces. An additional battery pack isn’t cheap though, they cost around $20,000 each.

The Federal Aviation Administration currently does not have any rules in place for electric aircraft. The FAA says before regulators could recognize electric propulsion systems for certification, several standards including performance, installation and maintenance would have to be developed in order to certify an electric airplane.

ASTM International, the standards organization that oversees the light-sport-aircraft industry is in the process of drafting documents for electric light-sport aircraft that it will present to the FAA. These standards could cover aircraft such as Randall Fishman’s ElectraFlyer-X and Yuneec’s E430.

The E-Spyder is able to fly under the regulations outlined for ultralight aircraft weighing less than 254 pounds empty that have been in place since the ultralight boom of the 1980s. And the small airplane has already served as the learning platform for the first student pilot flying electric.

Tom Peghiny who has been flying ultralights for more than 25 years began carefully instructing one of his employees in the E-Spyder during the past month. Mathew Fortin is an experienced pilot of remote-controlled aircraft and competes at the national level in r/c aerobatics.

Before his first taxiing lessons down the runway in the E-Spyder, Fortin had only flown a few times in small aircraft with no formal instruction.

“This is my first real experience with takeoffs and landings,” he said of flying the E-Spyder.

Student pilot Mathew Fortin learning to fly in the E-Spyder

With Peghiny’s instruction and supervision, Fortin made several trips up and down the runway before making his first small hops off the ground. In the end, he estimates he made around 25 trips up and down the runway without flying more than just a few feet above the runway.

With this experience under his belt, Fortin made his first flight to altitude last Thursday and says it was an incredible feeling to pilot an aircraft for the first time. And he does think the electric motor makes learning to fly more enjoyable.

“It was less intimidating having the electric motor, not some loud clanky gas engine” Fortin says. “It really makes it easy to focus on flying.”

There are still no electric airliners on the drawing boards, or even an airplane capable of a long cross-country flight. So, until the much dreamed of super batteries are developed, student pilots learning to fly in an electric airplane will of course need some transition training to fly normal gas-powered aircraft.

But in the near term, there could be a generation of pilots who not only learn to fly, but learn to enjoy the pleasure, and challenges, of flying with only the flow of electrons powering their flight.

Photos: Yuneec International, Electric Aircraft Corporation, Mathew Fortin


Oct 3rd

Living with the GoPro HD Hero Camcorder

By Spencer Forman

gopro helmet position.jpg

Living with the GoPro HD Hero Camcorder
By: Mike In Thailand

I’ve had this camera for about a week now and have to say up-front that I’ve used it in my trike only three times so far – I’m therefore no expert.  I am however a semi-pro stills-photographer (mainly wildlife) but have never before dabbled in video other than the video function on point-and-shoot cameras.

So far I’ve been extremely impressed by the camera and haven’t yet tried many of its features (60 fps for slow motion, as a stills camera firing every ‘x’ seconds, shooting in highest resolution of 1920x1080 – I don’t think I’ll ever use any of its other features for flying videos).

So, bearing in mind my very limited experience, here’s my 15 points of what I’ve learned so far:

It only costs $299 and in order to keep production costs down, the manufacturers dispensed with features like the playback screen/viewfinder and, with the zoom/focus buttons – why would you need these when you won’t be looking through the camera anyway?  The only downside of this is when you fix the camera to your trike/helmet/whatever, you can’t see exactly where the camera is pointing.  This is not really a big deal since it shoots a very wide-angle view (about 170 degrees) and, it’s pretty easy to guess where it’s shooting anyway.  A little bit of trial and error (inside you house) can solve these issues. You can fine-tune the shooting direction of the camera once it has been mounted by twisting various “pivot arms”, after loosening them first with a screwdriver.

Some of the mounts are based on 3M tape adhesion (VHB 4991) which is supposed to be stickier than a dried cornflake on a cereal bowl – and that’s sticky.  Having said this, it does no harm to safety-wire the camera to the trike in the event the 3M tape fails….. the last thing we want is a small camera passing through our prop.The other mounts are based on straps and belts and are far lees likely (in my opinion) to fail.

gopro mounting2.jpg

I have used one of the Curved Surface Adhesive Mounts to mount the camera on my helmet (see pics) – I cleaned the helmet first with detergent and then with alcohol.  It seems very firmly stuck.  I then used a “pivot arm” as a link and this gives me 3 dimensions for adjustment of camera’s direction.  I tried it without a pivot arm but because the lens has such a wide-angle and the camera was sitting closer to the helmet’s dome, I could see the top of my helmet/visor in the frame.I mounted the camera on the side of my helmet so it wasn’t pointing at the front strut – this was a good idea.

I’ve been filming in 4:3 (1280x960) up to now and this gives me 170 degrees field of vision – this is a lot and isn’t far off the human eye’s peripheral vision.  If you shoot in 16:9 on the highest resolution of 1920x1280, the field of view is 127 degrees – still very wide.

There are 2 buttons on the camera’s exterior – the front one turns the camera on/off and the top one starts/stops filming.  My advice is to begin by shooting everything on your flight/taxi – the battery and chip (16 GB) are good for about 2.5 hours and I haven’t run out of memory/power yet.  When you get more familiar with the camera, I suggest turning the camera on when you put your helmet on and then start/stop the video as and when you need to film.  Remember, if the camera is on your head, you can’t see if it’s filming or not or, if it’s on or off – that’s why I recommend leaving it on for the entire flight to begin with.

When filming with a helmet-mount, try to keep your head still for the “good bits” of the flight.  As pilots we’re constantly scanning left and right – this will make the viewer extremely nauseas. 

 With a wide-angle lens the viewer will not get much appreciation of speed or, of how low you’re flying.  Therefore there’s no point in flying very low or keeping your foot hard on the throttle.

 Your films will be much more interesting if you change camera angles.  I’m looking forward to trying new mounting points on my trike so I can edit some fresh perspectives into my films.  Obviously, unless you buy several cameras you’ll need to change camera angles between flights and splice them together later with your editing software.

 The camera is placed in a clear housing (provided) and this is how it is fixed to the mounting points.  On a trike, I recommend using the “back door” that is not waterproof, this way you’ll get some decent engine sound and the book says you won’t get excessive wind noise below 100 mph (so this could be a problem if you have a yellow trike).  The waterproof door is OK for depths of up to 60 meters.

When wearing your camera on your helmet, be careful not to bang it on various parts of your trike – if you do you could alter the direction in which you’re shooting.

I also bought a “Ride HERO” – basically a cycle mounting kit that I thought would be good for my trike…. it isn’t.   It only fits tube of between 0.75” and 1.4” in diameter and all my trike’s tubes are in excess of this unless you include the control bar and in this case, you’d be better-off using a helmet mount (less vibration).

The max file size for my 4:3 filming (30 fps) equates to about 40 minutes of film, the camera automatically opens a new file in order to continue filming.  I’ve edited together the end of one file and the start of a new file and, I’m happy to say, it’s seamless.

That’s about it for now – I’ll post some more as I learn.

Best regards

Oct 2nd

Flying in Hawaii paradise

By Spencer Forman

Many thanks to TheStar

Stories by CYNTHIA EE

Vertigo or no, you could be lulled by Hawaii’s beauty into signing up for a flight lesson on a powered hang glider . . .

I fear heights. Climbing up a ladder makes my knees wobble and hands tremble. Riding the roller coaster would mean crouching on the bar and whimpering in my seat.

So how did I end up signing for a flight lesson on a powered hang glider?

Mind you, this is a real aircraft — minus the doors, windows and walls. And it can travel up to a speed of 100mph and as high as 6,000ft. To earn a sport pilot licence from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), you need lessons as well as log the requisite flight time.

Above and below: Flying with friends.

I blamed it on the hypnotic lull of Oahu’s North Shore. Imagine soaring over Hawaii’s lush hilly terrains, breezing through billowy clouds and casting wing-shape shadows over the Pacific Ocean.

Moreover, it was December, Humpback migration season, and the thought of catching sight of a pod or even a single whale sounded thrilling. Thrilling enough to cast fear aside and entrust my life in the hands of a stranger who would co-pilot the aircraft with me. Never mind the fact that I’d never navigated an aircraft before — not even a battery-operated one — or sat in an open cockpit.

This time, I’d be perched precariously like a bird, strapped to a seat, and exposed literally to sun, sky and sea.

I must admit that I secretly wished my flight would be cancelled. The weather was acting up with sporadic storms in North Shore where we were staying for the week. Signs were posted on some beaches warning visitors of tidal waves, which could surge up to 20ft. We also got wind that President Barrack Obama and his family had arrived and were putting up at North Shore for the holiday season.

Now what were the odds of my flight lesson getting cancelled?

As luck would have it, the day of my flight lesson dawned bright and sunny, with nary a rain cloud in sight. The Obamas’ presence only meant additional security measures for all aviation activities, so that you required special clearance and air space was regulated.

The drive from where we stayed at Punaluu to the Dillingham airfields must have been the longest 40-minute journey I ever made. It was actually a scenic drive with changing landscapes along the rugged coastline, where we passed through surfing beaches, plantations, and also the majestic Kualoa mountains and ranch, where some of the scenes in Jurassic Park were filmed.

My “pteranodon” presented itself as a gleaming yellow hang glider parked outside the hanger as we turned into Dillingham airfields. Denise Sanders, co-owner of Paradise Air and certified flight instructor, was prepping the aircraft for my maiden flight lesson.

The Kualoa mountains served as a backdrop for the movie Jurassic Park.

The aircraft certainly didn’t appear menacing; it looked like a winged bird latched to a trike with propeller. I was told later that this aircraft was an Australian-made AirBorne XT-912, powered by a 80hp Rotax 912cc, dual-ignition, four-stroke aircraft engine and had a 17-gallon fuel tank — enough for five hours’ flight time.

Fancy flying this aircraft back home to avoid traffic jams? Not such a wild thought, according to Denise.

They have two aircrafts in their fleet and upgrade each every three to four years. They usually end up selling their used aircrafts to past customers.

“We have a perfect safety record,” she went on to assure me.

Taking off from the runway.

I felt more at ease as I climbed into the backseat and slung my legs over the aircraft; it felt as if I was riding a Harley. Now I understood why it was often referred to as a “flying motorcycle”. Denise climbed into the seat in front of me and soon got the engine humming. The propeller behind me started whirring and we were soon taxiing on the runway.

The glider picked up speed, and I held my breath as it lifted off to the skies! People became tiny specks on the ground as we left the airfields behind and headed for the coastline. With instructions from Denise, I took over the controls and found it easy to make the aircraft go up and down, left or right just by tugging or tilting the handle bars.

After that clench in the heart during take-off, I could finally ogle at the view. Save for the flapping of wings, I truly felt like a bird as we soared between 1,000ft and 2,000ft above sea level. We glided over hills, pineapple fields and the ocean. We even saw a whale near to the shoreline and circled around it several times.

All too soon, the half-hour lesson was up and we were heading back to the airfields.

Flying over Kaena Point, Hawaii. — DENISE SANDERS and CYNTHIA EE

I felt another adrenaline rush when I agreed to Denise’s suggestion to land the aircraft without the engine running. Just like a hang glider, the aircraft can land safely without the engine, and this serves as an additional safety feature. Denise cut off the engine, the propeller churned to a halt, and we just glided down for a smooth landing.

Not only did I enjoy the flight, I also earned a half-hour of flight credit, which could be accumulated for a sport pilot licence. This usually requires at least 30 hours in total of flight time — including dual instructions and solo time.

Another 29.5 hours would put me in the running for Fear Factor. Let me first steady those knees.

Sep 27th

Please do NOT be like this guy...

By Spencer Forman
Oy Vey... this is one of the most dramatic examples of why you should NEVER, EVER, EVER.... get out of your machine to pull start it unless you have double, triple checked that you have your parking brake activated, and your throttle set to IDLE. It wouldn't hurt to have a set of lightweight chocks on board. And remember... TAKE YOUR TIME... DON'T RUSH... or you will forget something as obvious as the fact that you have your hand-throttle set to full.

Being a PPC, this thing thankfully got airborne and flew far away to land in a tree without hurting anyone. Here at TPSocial we've already learned what happens to trikes that go to full throttle and run away with people on board... and it's not a happy ending.

Watch and Learn:

Details of story from EAA Light Plan World:

On August 14, 2010, a powered parachute (PPC) got away from its pilot at a fly-in rally in Tracy, California, and took off on its own. Witnesses stated that the pilot was unable to start the engine with the electric starter, so he got out to start it by hand with the pull starter. It fired up at full throttle. He couldn’t reach the throttle before he was knocked down and run over by the rear tire. The incident was captured on video.

The chute kited up, and the PPC took off just barely missing other pilots on the ground. The Six Chuter PPC was one of five machines preparing to take off in the second round of a competition. It began flying in the pattern with other PPCs that were competing in the contest. Luckily it missed the other competitors and began spiraling upwards until it was lost from sight at about 5,000 feet. Observers said it was doing aerobatic maneuvers not typical for such aircraft. Two other pilots took off to find it but were unsuccessful. It headed northwest with about two hours of fuel on board. The FAA, local police, and the nearby Stockton airport tower were all notified. The search for the aircraft ended a week later when it was spotted in a tree near Napa, California, about 70 miles away.

Runaway aircraft incidents which have occurred in all types of aircraft are easily prevented by adherence to simple basic safety procedures. Luckily in this incident no one was injured except the pilot who suffered minor scrapes and bruises. Hopefully the video below will remind all pilots to be more careful, and remind bystanders to be ever vigilant when in the vicinity of operating aircraft.


Sep 9th

September is "I Learned About Trike Flying From That" Month...

By Spencer Forman
In light of all the good "don't do this" video we've seen this month, it seems appropriate to throw another log on the fire. Enjoy!