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Electric Motor Light Sports Airplanes and the Law

The United States Federal Aviation Administration rule that Light Sports Aircraft (LSA) must be powered only by reciprocating engines, forbids manufacturing and sales of electric motor powered light sport aircraft here in the states, while developers worldwide experiment, develop, and prepare to market LSA in their country. That particular FAA posture is not totally discouraging but is some what frustrating according to Randall Fishman, an ultra light pilot who is currently developing an electric two-seat sport plane.

A couple of the aviation designers, around the world, who are experimenting with LSA electric-powered designs include Boeing, Altatus, as well as Fishman and Sonex. Here in the U.S., Boeing is developing a Fuel Cell Demonstrator which combines a proton exchange membrane fuel cell with a lithium-ion battery pack to power its electric motor.


A French designer's concept, the electric glider Alatus, took its maiden voyage in January of 2009. Satisfied with its performance and how well it flew the first time, they plan to begin marketing and selling it in 2010. Unrestricted by the U.S. FAA rules, they are taking advantage of their freedom and getting a jump on the market. Wisconsin electric powered light sport aircraft designer and makers of the Sonex E-Flight are watching Altatus's introduction closely in hope data from this plane's sales and safety record will help reshape new rules within the FAA.

The light sport aircraft (LSA) is a class of airplane typically flown by less experienced pilots. The current Federal Aviation Administration rule concerning LSA is actually a measure intended to keep high-powered turbine engines out of the hands of novice sport pilots, thus thwarting the sale of electric airplanes here in the United States. "We are extremely reluctant to introduce such a new technology on this less experienced pilot population," says the FAA's Steve Flanaan, who helped write the Light Sport Aircraft rules. "We need to obtain more flight data and experience with electric motors."
Fishman electric powered aircraft design is the Electra Flyer-X, a $65,000 kit plane he had designed to LSA specifications. The Electra Flyer-X is an all-composite light sport airplane with a top speed of 100 mph and can stay airborne for up to 2 hours. It is propelled by a 100 volt, 50 horse power, brushless permanent magnet motor power plant, and a large, low-rpm low noise propeller.
The power is supplied by four 3-kilowatthour air-cooled lithium-ion polymer batteries which can be charge from an ordinary home wall outlet. It is his hope the Electra Flyer-X s design will enable it to quickly go into production once the FAA gives its okay to electric engine aircraft. According to Flanaan, no projected time table has been established when such a ruling will be issued.
While the federal government has committed almost $2.5 billion to help jump-start electric car research, development, and manufacturing; electric airplanes are being held back. It is only a matter of time before they rescind that rule and the hope is it is more sooner than later.

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