Embry-Riddle's Eco-Eagle was one of 14 aircraft to compete in a two-day, 200-mile "green flight" competition. It was one of only four to complete the race. [Photos: NASA/Bill Ingalls]
A project at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach has offered a glimpse into an electric future for aviation. Over two years, about 200 students from a range of academic disciplines helped create a sleek, hybrid-powered airplane that a core group of about 40 readied in time for a NASA-sponsored competition, the Green Flight Challenge, in October.
A thrifty 100-horsepower, four-cylinder engine brings the two-seat Eco Eagle aloft. Once the modified glider reaches cruising altitude, the pilot flips a switch and the broad-winged craft shifts to an even more efficient 40-hp electric system.
The Eco Eagle couldn't compete for the Green Flight Challenge's $1.3 million prize — judges ruled it ineligible because a required parachute system couldn't be installed in time. But Embry-Riddle's plane, flown by alumnus Mikhael Ponso of Brazil, earned plaudits nevertheless as one of only four (out of 14) competitors from the U.S. and abroad to complete the two-day, 200-mile competition. A battery powered, all-electric plane built by a team from Pennsylvania and Slovenia won the competition, which was staged in California.
Students at Embry-Riddle spent nearly two years designing and constructing the computer-packed Eco Eagle. Graduate student Lori Costello led the volunteer project, the only all-university team in the NASA competition, which was supported by Google and the Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency non-profit organization.
Aerospace engineering professor Richard "Pat" Anderson, Embry-Riddle's faculty adviser for the project, says his students are "contributing to the greening of aviation" by proving that a plane with a hybrid propulsion system can help blaze a trail for a new generation of ultra-efficient personal aircraft.