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John Monnett on E-Flight

Skype video conference with experimental aircraft pioneer.

By EV World Video Productions

"There is only so much fuel in the tank," is how Sonex Aircraft founder John Monnett put it when asked why spend time, effort and money on an electric propulsion system for sport aircraft. "And I am speaking of the earth, of course."

Starting in the mid-1990s, Monnett and Pete Buck -- described on the company web site as "the brain behind Sonex" -- began thinking about electric-powered flight; specifically equipping their Moni motorglider with a small electric motor and battery to replace its gasoline engine. What they thought was going to be relatively easy engineering exercise turned out to be far more complex than they imagined, but the fruit of that more than decade-long dream literally took flight last week at Whitman Regional Airport in Oshkosk, Wisconsin, the home of both Sonex Aircraft and the headquarters of the Experimental Aircraft Association. With John Monnett, himself, at the controls, an E-Flight equipped Waix two-place lifted briefly a couple hundred feet above the runway before safely settling back to earth; the first successful flight of an all-electric airplane in North America.

In this nearly half-hour Skype video conference call, recorded in Sonex's aircraft hangar, Monnett shares with EV World publisher Bill Moore insights into why he decided to devote his efforts to developing an electric propulsion system for his company's kit built airplanes. What he and his staff initially thought was going to involve selecting the right off-the-shelf components proved far more time difficult and consuming than imagined, but resulted in numerous patent-applied-for discoveries from its powerful custom electric motor to its electronic controls.

With a twinkle in his eye, Monnett, hinted that Sonex may take on the airspeed record that Cri-Cri unofficially set last week in France, noting that any airplane can do 162 mph when you point the nose down. For the record to be official, the FIA needs to sanction it, and the airplane needs to either do a down wind and up wind run at the same time, or fly a level triangular course. Expect there to be an ongoing competition for the electric plane speed record.

This is a two-part interview, so be sure to watch Part 2, which will follow immediately after this 11-minute sequence plays.

Times Article Viewed: 12529
Published: 08-Dec-2010

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