NASA announced this week it has awarded the $1.35 million prize for its CAFE Green Flight Challenge to the team from Pipistrel-USA.com. The twin-fuselage, four-seat electric airplane beat out the eGenius team from Germany during two competition days held last week at the Sonoma County Airport in California. The eGenius team will take home $120,000 for second place and another $10,000 for a separate competition from the Lindbergh Electric Aircraft Prize for the quietest aircraft during the week.
Of the 14 teams originally signed up for the competition, only four made it to California, and only three met the requirements for the competition. The event was managed by the Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency foundation under an agreement with NASA and sponsored by Google.
“NASA congratulates Pipistrel-USA.com for proving that ultra-efficient aviation is within our grasp,” said Joe Parrish, NASA’s acting chief technologist, in a statement. “We’ve shown that electric aircraft have moved beyond science fiction and are now in the realm of practice.”
After the final day of competition on Thursday, NASA closely guarded the data from the flights until the winner was announced. On Monday the agency said both electric aircraft exceeded the requirement of flying at least 200 miles on the energy equivalent of less than a gallon of gas while averaging 100 miles per hour with two people on board. In fact, NASA says both the Pipistrel and eGenius managed to meet the requirements using the equivalent of just half a gallon of gasoline, meaning they averaged close to 400 passenger miles per gallon at over 100 mph.
A third team flying a gasoline-powered Phoenix motorglider did not meet the efficiency requirements to win a prize.
Pipistrel general manager Ivo Boscarol told us minutes after the competition ended on Thursday that he was confident the team would do well.
“Everything performed better than anticipated,” he said enthusiastically as the airplane was being inspected after the flight.
Boscarol was confident then of winning the prize, adding if one of the other teams won, “they really deserve it.”
The Pipistrel Taurus G4 that flew in the competition (pictured above) was developed and built in Slovenia as a technology demonstrator for the airplane maker. The company does not plan on building production versions of the airplane, but does plan on using the liquid-cooled electric powertrain in a four-seat airplane it is developing and hopes to fly next year.
We will have more photos from the competition and details about the aircraft from the engineers and pilots in an upcoming gallery.
Photo: Jason Paur/Wired.com