NASA Abandons Flying Cars for Greener Flight with a $1.5m Prize for Green Plane Innovation

Last month, after my search for green innovation in aviation turned up empty, I proposed that the aviation industry needed its own Steve Jobs to shake things up. Now, in a move that can only be interpreted as a direct response to my challenge, NASA has announced a competition for the greenest aircraft designs, with a grand prize of $1.5 million and a $150,000 prize for best bio-fueled aircraft.

The competition calls for innovators to make room in their garage, and design and build an aircraft capable of  flying a 200-mile flight at an average speed of at least 100 mph while achieving greater than 200 passenger miles-per-gallon (more than 2.5 times better than what Airbus claims their green A380 can achieve at optimum capacity.)

Until last year, the NASA/CAFE (Comparative Aircraft Efficiency Foundation) competition focused on flying cars Personal Air Vehicles – modified light planes that are cheap, quiet, and have folding wings for road driving.

NASA even had its own Personal Air Vehicle program until 2005, when funds were cut, and the program shrunk into a CAFE run competition with the modest prize of $250k. Now, as a sign of our green tinted times, the competition reemerges in force with a more respectable $1.5m prize, and a green focus.

The winners will be decided after a fierce (I hope) competition to be held on July 2011, in Sonoma, California. CAFE are expecting a variety of innovative experimental aircraft that fly with either electricity, solar, bio-fuel or hybrid propulsion. Several major universities and EAA aircraft builders have already expressed their intention to form teams to compete. The competition is now officially accepting entrants at cafefoundation.org.

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