Tag Archives: fossil fuels


spring 009

The airplane with the moniker Solar Impulse left Moffett Field near San Francisco last Friday en route to Phoenix, Arizona. Will this be the first flight on a rapidly accelerating scientific adventure of solar powered aviation? Perhaps it will, but it is not very likely. This inaugural flight is the first leg of a planned cross country flight that will end up at Dulles International Airport after stops at DFW (Dallas-Fort Worth), STL (Lambert St. Louis International Airport), and thence on to Dulles. Each destination will provide a static display for those folks that want to witness this aviation anomaly, and identify themselves with this first-ever across-the-US, solar powered flight.
In interesting statistic relating to the inaugural flight from SFO to PHX is that the flight time was 19 hours (Its normal cuise speed is 40 miles per hour). Just a little shorter time frame than it took the enthusiastic soon-to-be gold digging pan handlers, also referred to as 49ers, to travel the same distance across the Rockies to San Francisco. It is believed that the Solar Impulse took a very circuitous route from SFO to PHX, and perhaps they took some time for a full viewing of the Grand Canyon. Based on the first flights total time it will take in the vicinity of 100 hours total flight time to get this monstrosity of an air machine all the way to Washington DC (Dulles).
If you have not seen it, the solar impulse has a wingspan of 208 feet, approximately that of Boeing 747. A Boeing 747 can carry as many as 500 people and the Solar Impulse can carry one person. Although the Solar Impulse will burn no fossil fuel during its flight, the ground handling functions to support it will likely burn a very large amount of gas or diesel fuel.
The lead character in this radical Odyssey is a Swiss psychiatrist and Aeronaut by the name of Bertrand Piccard. He has very aptly stated that the flights of the Solar Impulse will not pave the way for a future of solar powered flight. He states that he is hopeful it will provide more impetus and awareness of solar power for non-aviation purposes. Anyone who is not been living in a cave in recent decades is aware that greatly expanded use of solar power is an absolute must-do. Now we must convince the Luddite-like United States Senators and Congressmen that weaning ourselves from fossil fuels is critical for the future of our children and grandchildren’s survival.
This blog is written by a retired commercial pilot and aviation author, Ace Abbott. His books can be accessed at http://www.therogueaviator.com/ and his aviation talk show is available at http://webtalkradio.net/




Is the future of aviation dependent upon the availability of fossil fuel? The answer is a clear-cut yes and no? For those few people that are paying attention to the concept of “peak oil”—a subject that has resulted in the publication of many books; but read by few—the diminishing availability will not be bell-curve-like. It will be more analogous to a large boulder being nudged over the cliff. It will leave the Hummer drivers agape in awe with jaw-dropping amazement and disillusionment. It will make the Amish and Mennonite folks appear to be extremely prescient as the value of horses skyrockets. Enjoy the relatively inexpensive air travel while you can. Ticket prices can only increase and the rate of increase might be profound.

But fret not, you addicted jet-setters there is hope on the horizon. Aviation is now so imbedded in the culture of the entire planet that the visionary creative engineers are coming out of the woodwork with numerous marginally plausible plans and a few that will probably be effective in keeping aviation alive. While I promote enthusiasm for the future of aviation, even after the complete exhaustion of fossil fuels, I must issue a caveat. There will be no more $169 roundtrip flights from the Northeast United States to Florida. Air travel will be primarily for the well-to-do. Those people at the top of the food chain will still have their private jets but their aircraft will be powered by one of the following: biofuels, electricity from batteries, and solar power. Nuclear powered aircraft and/or hydrogen cell powered aircraft are very unlikely unless the engineers engage in some quantum leaps forward in dealing with the shortcomings of these two sources.

Based on the most recent advances in the development of solar power for airplanes it appears that it will be quite feasible for smaller, four-seater type air machines. The current technology requires extremely large-winged aircraft for two or four people maximum. For commercial operations as we know it, there is very little likihood of electric-solar powered aircraft becoming viable for the operation of aircraft to haul hundreds of people. The bright side is there would be very little night flying and fewer pilots sleeping in the cockpit. The recent Sun ‘N Fun Air Show hosted a workshop with the moniker: International Workshop for Electric Standardization. The Oshkosh Air Show in July will be buzzing with the subject of alternative fuels.

The biofuels such as ethanol from corn has been a bust for autos and it will not solve the jet fuel and avgas problem. The use of items such as “switch-grass” and other non-consumable wild grasses and weeds has been discussed and researched. It now appears that the best source of fuel to replace  jet fuel and avgas is an algae-based product. In a recent speech in Miami, President Obama stated that we could derive up to 17% of our fuel needs fuels from algae. Twenty-four million dollars in grants for this research has been issued. As usual, there is a caveat. It takes 350 gallons of water to produce one gallon of algae fuel. It is almost a certainty that man’s instinctual enthrallment with flying will result in creative and innovative people stepping forward to solve the problem. The changes in air travel in the next ten years will be very interesting!

This blog is prepared by Allen Morris/aka Ace Abbot,  the author of The Rogue Aviator: in the back alleys of aviation; www.therogueaviator.com