The National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) recently announced plan to put an electric airplane in the air by 2018 is forward-looking, but hardly unique.
History teaches us that engineers have been launching full-scale, electrically propelled airplanes for decades. From the solar-powered AeroVironment Gossamer Penguin to the Airbus E-Fan to the Boeing Fuel Cell Demonstrator, electric aircraft projects have sprung up in the biggest and best aeronautics organizations.
The solar-powered Gossamer Penguin featured a 71-foot wingspan and a weight of just 68 lb without the pilot. Designed in 1979 by Paul MacCready’s Aerovironment, the Gossamer used an Astro-40 electric motor, driven by a 540W solar panel consisting of 3,920 solar cells.
Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 32 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and autos.