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Wednesday, 07 October 2015 13:28

Embry-Riddle’s Electric Flight Program Soaring

Written by Melanie Stawicki Azam
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New technology would reduce aircraft emissions and noise

Electric Plane

Imagine soaring over the Grand Canyon without the noise and exhaust from a standard airplane.

Students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, in partnership with Powering Imagination LLC, are working to make that dream a reality with an electric flight program that aims to reduce aircraft emissions and noise.

Focused on the development of electric propulsion systems, the Quiet Flight Initiative program at Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach Campus directly involves students and faculty in the College of Engineering and the university’s Eagle Flight Research Center, a center of excellence dedicated to aerospace research and development.

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“We are trying to seek a balance between aviation and the environment,” says Pat Anderson, director of the Eagle Flight Research Center. “This is a giant leap forward in efficiency and environmental effectiveness.”

Embry-Riddle students and faculty in the Eagle Flight Research Center are getting valuable hands-on experience in their efforts to lead innovations aimed at providing cleaner and quieter aircraft options for more environmentally sustainable communities.

Team Electric

“Our mission is to help accelerate the development of clean and quiet flight, and electric propulsion promises to do that,” says Erik Lindbergh, CEO of Powering Imagination and the grandson of aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh. “Embry-Riddle is an ideal partner to engage with in this project.”

The project involves converting a Diamond HK-36 Dimona motor glider to fully electric power for testing in noise-sensitive areas. The aircraft’s first test flight is anticipated in 2016, says Anderson. The airframe was donated by Lockheed Martin’s Skunkworks in Palmdale, Calif.

“This is a transformational change to the way we move airplanes,” says Anderson. “It is the leading edge of propulsion technology right now, and clearly we want to lead in innovating in the aerospace industry.”

The aircraft will also be used as an “airborne laboratory” to assess how well new components of electric propulsion systems work under real-world flight conditions. With its ability to be reconfigured to test a wide range of new innovations from different companies and development teams, the aircraft will enable more efficient research and development on electric power systems.

“Due to the energy limitations of current battery technologies, much of the global activity in electric flight up to this point has been focused on light aircraft for recreation and flight training,” says Eric Bartsch, chief operating officer of Powering Imagination.

The organization has identified the air tour market as an ideal next step for scaling up electric propulsion to larger- scale aircraft. Air tours are typically short-range flights that can be operated at low speeds, which are conditions well-suited to the current state of battery technologies. Since many air tours are flown in environmentally-sensitive areas like national parks, the benefits of electric propulsion are significant, and the energy requirements are within the capabilities of battery technologies commercially available over the next several years.

“The global air tour industry uses a significant number of aircraft to operate hundreds of thousands of annual flights in areas that are typically highly noise sensitive and we can make a meaningful impact on the future of sustainable flight by focusing on air tours as a stepping stone to larger commercial aircraft,” says Bartsch.

The electric airplane program research and development has also been supported by Embry-Riddle alumni and friends of the university.

Larry Finegold has given $50,000 to the project through the Michiko So Finegold Memorial Trust and its organization, A Quieter Future, which were created in honor of his late wife and her noise control engineering work. The money helps cover the cost of a graduate assistantship to work on the electric airplane program.

“It is critical to understand and reduce the effects of noise in our environment,” says Finegold. “The Michiko So Finegold Memorial Trust and its organization, A Quieter Future, are dedicated to supporting the important work at Embry-Riddle to reduce the impacts of noise and improve quality of life and protect natural quiet.”

Randy Fiorenza (‘86, DB; ‘90, WW) donated $10,000 to the program to ensure funding of the shipment of the Dimona motor glider from Skunkworks in Palmdale, California, to Daytona Beach.

“I believe electric airplanes are the future for the aviation, automotive, and marine indu

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