NASA Eco Competition Down to Three Airplanes

Teams compete for a $1.65 million prize pot.

NASA Challenge

NASA Challenge

** Pipistrel-USA's Taurus G4 takes off for the
first competition flight round. (Photo by
NASA/Bill Ingalls)

A handful of green aircraft are battling it out in Santa Rosa, California, this week for the title of the most efficient small aircraft in the world, along with a prize purse from NASA of $1.65 million.

The competition, known as NASA’s Green Flight Centennial Challenge, kicked off earlier this week, featuring a select few aircraft that are pushing the envelope of eco-friendly technology.

Of the 13 teams that initially took on NASA’s challenge, only five had completed the necessary flight qualifications to remain in the contest as of last week. On Monday, NASA announced the number of competitors had dropped to three.

Those three include PhoEnix, a motor glider powered by a 100 hp 912ULS Rotax engine; Pipistrel-USA, a four-seat electric aircraft with dual fuselages; and e-Genius, a motor glider powered by a 60 kW electric motor. Embry-Riddle is flying the Eco Eagle on behalf of the university in NASA's challenge, but is not competing for the prize.

All three teams successfully completed fuel efficiency flight tests Monday, which included meeting a noise level less than 78 dBA at full power takeoff and clearing a height requirement of 50 feet within a take-off distance of 2,000 feet.

To win the competition, aircraft must fly 200 miles within a two-hour period on less than one gallon of fuel per occupant. If multiple competitors meet these requirements, the prize will go to the team with the best combination of speed and efficiency, according to NASA.

The teams completed the fuel efficiency test portion of the competition on Tuesday. Both e-Genius and Pipistrel-USA made it to the finish line before the two-hour mark, with the PhoEnix coming in after approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes.

The aircraft will take part in the competition’s speed challenge on Thursday.