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NASA Contest Heralds Dawn of the Electric Plane

In addition to NASA's missions in space that amaze the world, our work in aeronautics continues to spur innovation and jobs.

NASA is providing the $1.65 million prize purse for the Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency (CAFE) Foundation Green Flight Challenge competition, sponsored by Google, taking place this week outside of Santa Rosa, Calif.

The purse is the largest aviation prize in history and attracted 13 teams, all led by American innovators. Three teams successfully completed aircraft and flight qualification requirements and are competing for the purse. Teams are flying electric and biofueled powered aircraft to prove they have the most fuel efficient, small aircraft in the world.

To win the competition, an aircraft must fly 200 miles in less than two hours and use less than one gallon of fuel per occupant, or the equivalent in electricity.

Why is NASA sponsoring the competition?

NASA-funded prize competitions establish an important goal without having to choose the approach or the team that is most likely to succeed. NASA pays only for results. The competitions highlight excellence in a particular domain of human endeavor to motivate, inspire, and guide others.

NASA prize competitions increase the number and diversity of the individuals, organizations, and teams that are addressing a particular problem or challenge of national or international. They stimulate private sector investment that is many times greater than the cash value of the prize, while furthering NASA's mission by attracting more interest and attention to a defined program, activity, or issue of concern. And they capture the public imagination and change their perception of what is possible.

Aerospace remains a strong component of our national fabric and is the largest positive contributor to our nation’s trade balance. However, this technological leadership position is not a given. To remain the leader in aerospace technology, we must continue to perform research and invest in the people who will create the breakthroughs of tomorrow.

The CAFE Green Flight Challenge, sponsored by Google, may be the birth of a new segment of the aviation industry. This competition represents the dawn of a new era in efficient flight and is the first time that full-scale electric aircraft have performed in competition. The technologies demonstrated by the winning plane may end up in general aviation aircraft, spawning new jobs and new industries for the 21st century.

For photos of the Green Flight Challenge, visit:

Article by Charles Bolden, Administrator of NASA