Ajdovscina/San Francisco, 04 October (STA) - A electric four-seater aircraft, the Taurus G4, won the Slovenian ultralight plane maker Pipistrel a US$ 1.35m NASA prize on Monday, the largest prize in aviation history, for the most energy efficient aircraft in the CAFE Green Flight Challenge.
Ivo Boscarol, the owner and boss of Pipistrel, told the STA he was very happy the team proved that electric-powered aviation could be equivalent to flying on fossil fuel.
He dedicated US$ 100,000 of the prize to a fund for a new competition to help develop a supersonic electric plane.
In the competition, managed by the Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency (CAFE) Foundation under an agreement with the US space agency NASA and sponsored by tech giant Google, the aircraft had to fly 200 miles (some 320 kilometres) in less than two hours and use less than one gallon (3.8 litres) of fuel per passenger or the equivalent in electricity.
The first two teams, both with electric-powered planes, achieved twice the fuel efficiency requirement of the competition, meaning they flew 200 miles using the equivalent of just over half a gallon of fuel per passenger.
For the competition, Pipistrel teamed up with the Pennsylvania State University to make the team Pipistrel-USA.com, because one of the requirements was an American partner.
Out of 14 teams originally registered for the competition, only three met all requirements and competed in the skies over Santa Rosa, California.
The second place prize of US$ 120,000 went to team eGenius of Ramona, California and the University of Stuttgart, Germany, whom Pipistrel also helped as a development partner.
"I'm proud that Pipistrel won, they've been a leader in getting these things into production, and the team really deserves it, and worked hard to win this prize," said Eric Raymond, team leader of eGenius.
"NASA congratulates Pipistrel-USA.com for proving that ultra-efficient aviation is within our grasp," said Joe Parrish, NASA's acting chief technologist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Today we've shown that electric aircraft have moved beyond science fiction and are now in the realm of practice."
Pipistrel already won NASA's competitions in 2007 and 2008 for its Virus SW plane. Boscarol said the prize money will be invested in development.