Ultra-Efficient Aircraft Wins NASA Prize

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The Taurus aircraft, flown by Team Pipistrel-USA.com in this year's CAFÉ Green Flight Challenge, took home the NASA grand prize of $1.35 million.
Pipistrel/Team Pipistrel-USA.com

THE GIST

— Pipistrel, a Slovenian light aircraft manufacturer, teamed up with Penn State University to compete in the 2011 CAFÉGreen Flight Challenge.

— Their aircraft, the Taurus, achieved 402.5 passenger miles per gallon and averaged a speed of 107 mph.

— Technologies developed for the competition may be utilized by NASA for future Mars missions.

Something special seems to be brewing across the Atlantic in the tiny country of Slovenia.

For the third time in company history, Pipistrel, a Slovenian light aircraft manufacturer based in Ajdovščina took home the biggest prize in aviation history at the 2011 CAFÉ Green Flight Challenge for energy-efficient aircraft sponsored by Google late last month.

As previous winners in 2007 and 2008 with its Pipistrel Virus design, the Slovenian company paired up with Penn State University as Team Pipistrel-USA.com.

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The challenge this year was to design an aircraft based on fuel efficiency: 200 miles in less than two hours while utilizing less than one gallon of fuel per occupant, or the equivalent of that in electricity.

With $1.35 million on the line as the grand prize — awarded by NASA — Pipistrel and the runner-up shattered the challenge by achieving that with a little over a half-gallon of fuel equivalent per passenger while cruising at speeds of approximately 100 mph.

In development for over two years, Pipstrel's winning aircraft, the Taurus G4, is a four-seat plane with two separate fuselages with a single-prop engine sitting in-between (pictured top).

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In total, the Taurus achieved 402.5 passenger miles per gallon and averaged a speed of 107 mph. It is an impressive feat as general aviation aircraft fly at about 60 passenger miles per gallon.

The technologies that were displayed during the event may end up in general aviation aircraft of the future.

What is interesting about this particular contest is whether NASA will utilize any of the technologies that were displayed in its ARES Platform that is currently under development and testing.

The ARES is NASA's Ariel Regional-scale Environmental Survey of Mars aircraft that will expand upon the Mars Exploration Rover (MER), and future Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) discoveries from the sky rather than from the ground.

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