NASA handed over a check for $1.35 million, the largest prize in NASA’s history, to Pipistrel-USA.com’s team leader Jack Langelaan in a ceremony at the Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California, on Monday, Oct. 3. The team’s four-seat Taurus G4 won the CAFE (Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency) Green Flight Challenge, a NASA Centennial Challenge program funded by Google that took place last week at the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa, California.
Only three of the 14 teams who registered for the competition qualified to compete – e-Genius, Phoenix Air and Pipistrel-USA.com. While Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s EcoEagle did not qualify for the competition, the airplane was allowed to participate as a demonstrator.
The airplanes had to be capable of flying 100 mph and using less than one gallon of fuel per passenger or the equivalent in electrical power. Only the e-Genius and Taurus G4 met this requirement during the challenge. The winning Taurus G4 exhibited an incredible 403.5 passenger miles per gallon.
In addition to the $1.35 million awarded to Pipistrel-USA.com, the e-Genius team received $120,000 for the second place. The e-Genius also won the inaugural Lindbergh Prize for Quietest Aircraft, which included a $10,000 prize purse funded by Jean Schulz, Charles Schulz’s widow, and was handed over by Eric Lindbergh, CEO of LEAP and grandson of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh. Noise levels during takeoff for the e-Genius ranged from 56 to 62 dBA.
The CAFE Green Flight Challenge event shows promise for the future of the electric airplane industry, NASA says. “Today we have shown that electric aircraft have moved beyond science fiction and are now in the realm of practice,” said Joe Parrish, NASA’s acting chief technologist.