Google backs US$1.65m NASA Green Flight Challenge

12 Aug 2011

Google is set to sponsor the Green Flight Challenge set up by NASA to find the design team capable of building the world’s most fuel-efficient aircraft.

The NASA-funded prize purse of US$1.65m will make this the largest ever prize for aviation, according to the Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency (CAFÉ) Foundation, a non-profit organisation set up to advance aviation technology, which is organising the competition.

NASA is seeking out a design team that can meet its criteria by building a plane capable of flying 200 miles in less than two hours using the energy equivalent of less than one gallon of gasoline per occupant.

Currently 13 teams have entered and aircraft include those propelled by gas, bio-diesel, hydrogen and electricity.

The Green Flight Challenge will run from 25 September to 3 October at the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport. On 3 October, aviation lovers will get a chance to see the competing aircraft at Moffett Field-NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.

The aim of the competition is to show that practical, emission-free cross-country flight is possible. The batteries will be recharged using clean geo-thermal based electricity from the Geysers geo-thermal fields in the Mayacama Mountains, situated north of Santa Rosa.

Google will sponsor the Electric Aircraft Charging Station at the CAFÉ Flight Test Center at Santa Rosa Airport.

“Imagine taking a flight from San Francisco to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in an aircraft with zero emissions. It’s not possible yet, but we hope it will be. That’s why we’re sponsoring the Green Flight Challenge, a flight competition to demonstrate aircraft with the potential to fly across the country emissions-free,” said Alec Proudfoot, project manager and aviation enthusiast, Google in a post on the search giant’s Google Green website.

According to CAFE, the aircraft in the Green Flight Challenge will represent a diverse mix of singular prototypes created by some of the world’s top designers.

The competition includes a bio-fuel prize and plans for a special Lindbergh Prize for Quietest Aircraft, to be presented by Erik Lindbergh, grandson of the renowned winner of aviation’s Orteig Prize, Charles Lindbergh.

Future of green aviation

The Google Green Flight Challenge Exposition will include exhibits of many technologies related to the future of green aviation. These will range from vertical takeoff personal aircraft, autonomous vehicles, fast prototyping equipment, advanced motors and propellers.

CAFE Foundation has a 30-year history of flight testing and research on small experimental aircraft.

Photo: CAFE’s highly modified Mooney 201 on display at the Pacific Coast Air Museum’s air show in 2009. Image courtesy of CAFE

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic