An electric aircraft is an aircraft that runs on electric motors rather than internal combustion engines, with electricity coming from fuel cells, solar cells, ultracapacitors, power beaming, or batteries.
Currently flying electric aircraft are mostly experimental demonstrators, including manned and unmanned aerial vehicles. Electrically powered model aircraft have been flown since the 1970s, with one report in 1957
In 1883 Gaston Tissandier was the first to use electric motors in airship propulsion. The following year, Charles Renard and Arthur Krebs flew La France with a more powerful motor.
Nikola Tesla envisaged using electrically powered aircraft, powered by beams from the ground or the ionosphere.
Electric motors have been used for model fixed-wing aircraft since from at least 1957, with a challenged claim from 1909.
In 1964 William C. Brown demonstrates on CBS News with Walter Cronkite a model helicopter that receives all of the power needed for flight from a microwave beam.
In 1973, Fred Militky and Heino Brditschka converted an HB-3 to an electric aircraft. Heino flew it for 14 minutes that same year.
In 2007 the non-profit CAFE Foundation held the first Electric Aircraft Symposium in San Francisco. The first electric registered aircraft makes its first flights the 2007-12-23 : BL1E "Electra" (F-PMDJ).
In 2009, a team from the Turin Polytechnic University made a conversion of a Pioneer Alpi 300. It flew 250 km/h for 14 minutes.
By 2011 the use of electric power for aircraft was gaining momentum. At AirVenture in that year the Electric Aircraft World Symposium was held and attracted wide attention. It was sponsored by GE Aviation and included presentations by US Air Force, NASA, Sikorsky Aircraft, Argonne National Labs and the US Federal Aviation Administration
The 27 lb (12 kg) unmanned AstroFlight Sunrise, the result of an ARPA contract, made the world's first solar-powered flight from Bicycle Lake, a dry lakebed on the Fort Irwin Military Reservation, on 4 November 1974. The improved Sunrise II flew on 27 September 1975 at Nellis Air Force Base.
The world’s first official flight in a solar powered, man carrying aircraft took place on April 29, 1979. The Mauro Solar Riser was built by Larry Mauro and was based on the UFM Easy Riser biplane hang glider. The aircraft used photovoltaic cells that produced 350 watts at 30 volts, which charged a Hughes 500 helicopter battery, which in turn powered the electric motor. The aircraft was capable of powering the motor for 3 to 5 minutes, following a 1.5-hour charge, enabling it to reach a gliding altitude.
The Solar-Powered Aircraft Developments Solar One was designed by David Williams under the direction of Freddie To, an architect and member of the Kremer prize committee and produced by Solar-Powered Aircraft Developments. A motor-glider type aircraft originally built as a pedal powered airplane to attempt the Channel crossing, the airplane proved too heavy to be successfully powered by human power and was then converted to solar power, using an electric motor driven by batteries that were charged before flight by a solar cell array on the wing. The maiden flight of Solar One took place at Lasham Airfield; Hampshire on June 13, 1979.
Gossamer Penguin and Solar Challenger
The Gossamer Penguin, a smaller version of the human powered Gossamer Albatross was completely solar powered. A second prototype, the Solar Challenger, flew 262 km (163 mi) from Paris to England. On 7 July 1981, the aircraft, under solar-power, flew 163 miles from Cormeilles-en-Vexin Airport near Paris across the English Channel to RAF Manston near London, flying for 5 hours and 23 minutes. Designed by Dr. Paul MacCready the Solar Challenger set an altitude record of 14,300 feet.
MIT Monarch and Monarch-B
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Monarch aircraft project was a series of two aircraft designed to win the Kremer prize for human powered aircraft speed record. The aircraft used an electrical motor along with batteries which were charged by the pedalling action of an athlete piloting the aircraft.
Aerovironment Bionic Bat
The Aerovironment Bionic Bat was an aircraft built to compete for the Kremer Speed Challenge, one in a series of Kremer prize offerings administered by the Royal Aeronautical Society. It incorporated an electric motor that doubled as a generator while on the ground, with the pilot's pedaling action charging ni-cad batteries. The stored energy was used to supplement pedal power from the pilot during record attempts. In 1984, Bionic Bat won two segments of the Kremer Speed Challenge.
The human piloted Solair 1 was developed by Günther Rochelt and based on a Hans Farner canard design. It employed 2499 wing-mounted solar cells giving an output of between 1.8 kilowatts (kW), equivalent to approximatlly 2.4 horsepower (hp), and 2.2 kW (3.0 hp). The aircraft first flew at Unterwössen, Germany on 21 August 1983. It flew for 5 hours and 41 minutes, "mostly on solar energy and also thermals". The aircraft is now displayed at the German Museum in Munich. The newly developed piloted Solair II made its first flight in May 1998 and further test flights that summer but the propulsion system overheated too fast. Development stopped when Günther Rochelt suddenly died in September 1998.
NASA Pathfinder and Helios
NASA's Pathfinder and Helios were a series of solar and fuel cell system-powered unmanned aircraft. AeroVironment, Inc. developed the vehicle under NASA's Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology program.
During the summer of 1990, the solar powered airplane Sunseeker, piloted by Eric Raymond, became the first solar powered airplane to cross the United States. It used a small battery pack charged by solar cells on the wings for takeoff, and then was able to fly directly on solar power.
The Sunseeker II, built in 2002, was updated in 2005–2006 with a more powerful motor, larger wing, lithium battery packs and updated control electronics. As of Dec, 2008 it was the only manned solar powered airplane in flying condition and was flown regularly by Solar Flight. In 2009 it became the first solar-powered aircraft to cross the Alps, 99 years after the first crossing of the Alps by an aircraft.
Test Flight of Soaring in 1994
Summary of Configuration and Performance Parameter of “Soaring”
China's first solar powered aircraft "Soaring" was designed and built by Danny H. Y. Li and Zhao Yong in 1992. The body and wings are hand-built predominantly of carbon fiber, Kevlar and wood. The design uses winglets to increase the effective wing span and reduce induced drag.