Tom Horne

Europe as GA bellwhether

April 4, 2009 by Thomas A. Horne, Editor At Large

Go ahead and laugh at the alternative powerplants being shown at this year’s AERO convention in Friedrichshafen, Germany. Yeah, they’re tiny and have minimal power outputs. But make no mistake: “Green” is the word over in the Old Country. Cruising along the autobahn, you see entire rooves of farmhouses covered in solar panels. Why? To earn generous energy credits.

In GA applications, I saw several promising powerplant schemes. One, Flight Design’s hybrid electric/Rotax combination, gives you a conventional engine coupled with a 40-hp electric motor. For takeoff, you use the Rotax plus the electric motor. In normal cruise, the electric motor is shut down. Lose your Rotax? The electric engine’s power helps get you to a better forced-landing location than if you had zero power.

Eric Raymond’s Sunseeker solar-powered motorized sailplane has already flown across the U.S., and now Raymond wants to fly his Sunseeker from his home in Zurich to the Pyrenees, and then on to North Africa. Raymond knows solar power. He worked with DuPont’s Solar Challenger in the 1980s. The Sunseeker’s solar panels are covered by a tough protective coating. “If you tried to wax it, the wax wouldn’t stick to it,” Raymond said.

Another neat concept is the solar hangar. Solar power opens and close the hangar door, provides energy to charge batteries, heat and light the hangar, and even preheat engines. Make more energy than you use? Then maybe the Obama administration can come up with a tax plan to credit your eco-savvy.

My guess is that the U.S. will be seeing more of these sorts of new approaches to power generation. The most cynical opinions hold that avgas may go the way of the Dodo bird. Until then, we’re hostage to fluctuating oil prices–and the whims of the oil-producing nations.  The Old Country may be helping to point the way out of that predicament.

For more on our AERO coverage including news reports and videos, see AOPA Online’s Home page:


Leave a Reply