SolarWorld solar blog

Oshkosh Part 3: Witness to the birth of a new industry

Posted 7/28/2011 by Amy Keiter, Community Relations Manager

I came to Oshkosh this week with a simple story to tell: SolarWorld is helping to transform aviation through the development of electric aircraft, in partnership with PC-Aero. Until last night, I did not understand how serious – and how immediate – this transformation is.

I spent the early part of last evening at a reception in the heady company of descendants of true aviation legends who are carrying on their legacies: Erik Lindburgh, the grandson of Charles Lindburgh, the first man to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic in 1927, and Sergei Sikorsky, the son of the inventor of the world’s first practical helicopter, Igor Sikorsky. Each of them continue to relentlessly promote aviation innovation, Erik by working with youth to promote electric flight, and Sikorsky, with his visionary leadership at Sikorsky Aircraft, which is developing an electric-powered helicopter called the Firefly.

Sergei Sikorsky speaking at AirVenture airshow in Oshkosh about the future of aviation
Firefly: An an electric-powered helicopter

Sikorsky quoted French writer Jules Verne in his remarks last night as he pounded the theme of constant advancement in flight, “Anything that one man can imagine, other men can make.” Sikorsky made a point to introduce Kevin Bredenbeck, the test pilot for Sikorsky’s new X2 helicopter, which has just broken a series of records for speed, flying at more than 250 knots, and winning the industry’s most coveted award, the Collier Prize for Significant Achievement in Aviation. Bredenbeck said the company is promoting the Sikorsky X2 development team as rock stars, to spark the interest of young people in studying aviation engineering and associated technologies.

Flyfly - an electric-powered helicopter
Sergei Sikorsky speaking at AirVenture airshow in Oshkosh about the future of aviation

Innovation was the appetizer and innovation was also the main course last night. After the reception, the PC-Aero team and I piled into a golf-cart driven by Lindburgh to dinner, where I witnessed the birth of a new industry. Over burgers and brats, a groups of about 50 electric flight experts from around the globe, from Fortune 100 companies to small, scrappy innovators such as PC-Aero, met for the first time to form an international alliance of electric flight. They agreed that safety needs to be paramount: A tragedy could cripple this nascent industry in an instant. They also identified the need to address the regulatory issues that will help the industry move forward, and they agreed to promote electric flight through public education, advocacy, and networking.

SolarWorld and PC-Areo team
SolarWorld's Amy Keiter (driver) and the PC-Aero team

The consortium, tentatively known as the Electric Aircraft Development Alliance (EADA), recognizes that its first hurdle is formidable and time-sensitive. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has significant funds for the development of batteries which are critical to the future success of the electric aircraft industry. But DOE’s definition of electric vehicle does not currently include aircraft. That will be a heavy lift.

Update on the flight of Elektra One: it’s now scheduled for Friday afternoon, with a forecast for clearing weather, though it’s (thankfully) dry today so far.

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