Electric Currents

What An EV World Weekend!

Apr 24, 2016

While a 'gaggle' of open-wheel race cars are careening about the streets of central Paris, a solo pilot soars alone over the Pacific in a four-engined airplane; and what they all have in common is they all are battery-powered.

What an amazing weekend in our emerging EV world. While my wife and I were sprucing up our home with new greenery, some 4,500 miles away, Formula E, the FIA-sanctioned open wheel electric car racing series, took to the streets of Paris, France, testing and pushing the latest in EV propulsion technology.

Eighteen low-slung, all-electric racers lined up on the starting grid, having previously practiced and then qualified on the 1.93 km (1.2 mi) street course comprised of 14 turns around Les Invalides and the Musée de l'Armée, including the tomb of Napoleon.

While the nine teams readied to race in Paris, halfway around the world, another EV, this one powered by four electric motors, rolled out into the gathering dawn on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, readying for an epic, non-stop flight to California. With a wingspan to rival a Boeing 747, the Solar Impulse 2 had already flown, in eight previous legs in 2015, from the Persian Gulf, across India, over southeast Asia and China to Japan. There the project's co-founder and co-pilot Andre Borschberg flew a record setting 4 days 21 hours 52 minutes from Osaka, Japan to Honolulu, Hawaii, a total distance of 8,924 km (5,545 mi): solo and on solar energy only.

After a brief layover in Hawaii, the plan was to resume the around-the-world flight, but battery heating issues forced the Swiss-based team to temporarily suspend the mission to effect repairs and await a Spring 2016 flight window. That opportunity came early on the morning of April 21st as the project's second pilot, Bertrand Piccard lifted gently into the tropical morning air, slowly gaining altitude. Off Kaena Point, he turned east toward the distant U.S. mainland.

Besides Formula E and Solar Impulse being electrically-powered by advanced lithium-ion batteries, motors and controllers, the two endeavors also share another commonality made possible by advanced in communications technology. It is now possible, as I did, to monitor from my desk here in Nebraska both events simultaneously. One moment, I can be in the cockpit of a Formula E racer swerving through sharp turns, barely missing the adjoining car, and in the next instant, I can be at nearly 30,000 ft above the clouds over the Pacific Ocean, or in the cockpit with Piccard.

In fact, one of the highlights of the flight for me personally, besides breathing a sigh of relief when the Solar Impulse set down last night at Moffett Field just before midnight, was having Bertrand 'like' one of my tweets his first night out of Hawaii. I had overhead him and Borschberg talking about Hawaii being where Charles Lindbergh is buried.

Also before leaving the Islands behind him, an antique 1928 Bellanca flew along side for a memorable air-to-air photo. If Giuseppe Bellanca hadn't decided to not sell Lindbergh a plane, it could have been a Bellanca like that off Piccard' starboard wing that flew the Atlantic instead of the Ryan 'Spirit of St. Louis.'

I commented on both and from his cockpit as night approached, Piccard 'liked' my 144-character remarks.

Yesterday morning, as I resumed my 'watch' on his progress, the sun was just rising for him as he reached the 80% point of his journey. You could hear the emotion in his voice as he talked to Mission Control in Monaco, far away on the Mediterranean coast between France and Italy. He was clearly moved by the awesome beauty that lay ahead of him. "Now I know why I put so much into this project," he said. "I will carry this moment with me for the rest of my life." It was like being in the cockpit with Lindbergh on his 33-hour solo flight in 1927 from New York to Paris.

All too quickly the 48-minute, 28 lap race in Paris was over. Taking the podium were Lucas Di Grassi, Jean-Eric Vergne (a native Parisian), and Sebastien Buemi. In 28 days, the series resumes in Berlin.

Meanwhile, with lots of daylight still left, Solar Impulse soared majestically over the Golden Gate Bridge. Piccard had safely arrived (early) in San Francisco and had to go into a long holding pattern just off San Francisco Bay to wait for the winds to still. The giant plane can't easily or safely land in a crosswind, so the landing was postponed until just before midnight, which you can view in the Youtube video below, along with highlights of the 2016 Paris ePrix.

Yes, it was an amazing weekend for our EV world.

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