Fly 100 kilometres on a litre of fuel - Stuttgart aims to build the world's most environmentally friendly aircraft

University plans involvement in US flight efficiency competition

(PresseBox) ( Stuttgart, )
The Institute of Aircraft Design (IFB) at Universität Stuttgart is entering with an innovative aircraft design in the world's most lucrative flight competition - the Green Flight Challenge, run by NASA. NASA is stumping up USD 1.5 million in prize money for the winner of the contest, which in 2011 is set to take place in San Francisco, USA. The winning aircraft will need to be fast yet also extremely efficient. It must be able to fly a minimum distance of 320 kilometres at a minimum speed of 160 km/h, using the equivalent of less than one litre of fuel per 100 kilometres. The US-based "Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency" (CAFE) Foundation, headquartered in Santa Rosa, California, has organised the competition. Standards are high, with impressive competition expected from the elite among US universities and institutions.

Voit-Nitschmann: We hope to win the prize

"We're going to America to win", explains Prof. Rudolf Voit-Nitschmann, Member of the Executive Committee of the IFB. His team has already begun building the aircraft, which is based on the Hydrogenius fuel-cell aircraft developed at the IFB. The IFB decided to expand research into alternative and environmentally friendly aircraft, using the fuel-cell aircraft as a platform for developing other alternative propulsion systems. As a result of this approach, the aircraft is to be equipped with lithium batteries for this competition. "However," Voit-Nitschmann continues, "we still have two years of hard work ahead of us if we are to enter an aircraft with a real chance of winning." According to project engineer Steffen Geinitz, "the 'one-litre car' is still a long way off, and we're already working on the 'one-litre aircraft'. We believe that with this aircraft we have a good chance of bringing the world-renowned innovation award home to Germany." What's more, some major aircraft technology breakthroughs are imminent thanks to a host of innovations. Up to now, criticism of air travel has mainly focused on the high fuel consumption and excessive noise generated by flying, particularly during take-off and landing. Innovations in energy storage technology have given electric engines a real shot at challenging conventional power systems for the first time. The benefits of electric power include significantly higher energy efficiency and lower noise pollution. At the same time, it is kinder to the environment. "We're up against the central challenges of modern travel, namely fuel and noise", emphasises Steffen Geinitz.

The research into electrically powered aircraft is financed partly by private donors and partly by funding from the Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts Baden-Württemberg. For example, Artur Fischer, founder of Waldachtal-based Fischerwerke, promised a financial contribution of EUR 100,000 during the initial presentation phase of the project.

The project has also inspired Stuttgart airport to provide financial support to the tune of EUR 100,000. Airport manager Georg Fundel reveals: "The aviation industry has always been among the front runners when it comes to setting the pace for technical innovation, and Universität Stuttgart is right at the heart of these developments. The University's success not only sets the bar high in terms of reducing environmental damage, it also raises the profile of Germany as a leading provider of cutting-edge technology." In order to ensure that the aircraft in development at the IFB is also efficiently created, the institute is collaborating with Slovenian light aircraft manufacturer Pipistrel, a company that has twice won the CAFE flight competition. Other companies are also making financial contributions and donations in kind.

"Unfortunately, the financial donations are not yet sufficient to enable us to take part in the competition", explains aircraft developer Len Schumann. "We still need to find around another EUR 300,000 by 2011 and we're hoping to attract sponsors who identify with our innovative achievement and who want to promote Germany as the home of technology. After all, it's only in the field of flying that it's still possible to achieve 'real' technical records." It is easy to find sponsors for this type of innovation in the USA. For instance, Larry Page, co-founder of Google, is a familiar face at these competitions. The main event sponsor is an American investment company.

Experience with alternative power

The IFB has been experimenting with alternative power sources in aircraft for several years. The Institute has been working intensively on the Hydrogenius fuel-cell aircraft since 2007. In 1996, the IFB caused quite a stir in Germany and around the world with its solar aircraft "icaré", which was theoretically able to stay airborne for an unlimited length of time during daylight hours, powered exclusively by solar cells. The Institute won several national and international awards with this aircraft, including the Berblinger Prize of the city of Ulm and the Special Achievement Award in Oshkosh, Wisconsin (USA).

The IFB's work traditionally falls into the categories of aircraft design, light-weight construction and wind energy, but the institute has also been focusing on other areas, such as innovative production technologies for carbon-fibre components, for some time now. Over the last few years, the institute, which currently employs a total of 80 people, has developed into one of the largest at Universität Stuttgart, thanks not least to the extensive expansion of its research portfolio.
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