When Elon Musk, Silicon Valley engineer and founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, thinks about traditional aircraft, he looks at parts like tails, rudders and elevators. “Not needed,” he told an audience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Aeronautics and Astronautics Centennial Symposium. Instead, Musk has an idea for an entirely new kind of aircraft—a supersonic, vertical take-off and landing electric jet—that he can’t quite get out of his mind. “I’ve been sort of toying with the design for a while. I’d love to do it.”
When Musk, who was also one of the co-founders of PayPal, talks about electric aircraft (as comfortably as others discuss the ingredients of their favorite chocolate-chip cookies), the idea becomes hard to ignore. Tesla’s electric Model S is the most popular new car choice in seven of the country’s wealthiest zip codes—and all seven are in California, according to Edmunds. SpaceX, which designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets/spacecraft, “seems poised to grow into a major force in the aerospace industry, thanks largely to a pair of contracts with NASA totaling up to $5.7 billion to delivery cargo and eventually crew members to the International Space Station” according to Vogue (yes, that Vogue; it seems even the fashion world is fascinated with the entrepreneur often compared to Tony Stark, i.e. Iron Man).
And Musk is not the only one talking about the future of electric aircraft. Santa Monica resident Dave Hopkins spoke about the benefits—including zero emissions and almost silent operation, similar to electric cars—at a Santa Monica Airport Commission meeting last November.
Meanwhile, here are highlights from other news sources around the world about electric aircraft:
“’Electric airplanes will change everything when it comes to the cost of flying,’ says George Bye, a Colorado-based serial entrepreneur who’s been involved in several aviation projects. His new company, Aero Electric Aircraft Corporation, plans to have its two-seat Sun Flyer ready for flight testing by the summer.’” @WIRED – Wired.com
“Electric power is now seen as a new frontier for providing thrust and power for flight. Just as hybrid or turboelectric power has improved fuel efficiency in cars, boats and trains, aeronautical engineers are exploring how planes can be redesigned and configured with electrical power.” @NASA – NASA.com
Air & Space Magazine:
“The price of fuel isn’t everything; smoothness, quiet, reliability, and freedom from maintenance have value, as would the environmental benevolence of an airplane fueled entirely by locally harvested sunlight or wind.” @AirSpaceMag – Air & Space Magazine
Daily Mail (U.K.):
“Aeroplane fans at the Berlin Air Show were also wowed by the eerily quiet flight of Airbus Group’s fully-electric aircraft. The prototype two-seater made its maiden flight in March (2014)…. Airbus hopes that the prototype is one step towards the aerospace industry using regional jets powered by hybrid electric engines, which would slash its carbon dioxide emissions.” @MailOnline – Daily Mail (U.K.)
MIT Technology Review:
“One near-term benefit of the technology is that small airports (which are often located near residential areas) will be quieter, says Jean Koster, a professor of aerospace engineering sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder.” @TechReview – MIT Technology Review
There are several reasons to think Santa Monica Airport could be among the first to see the concept of electric aircraft take off, including the fact that most entrepreneurs looking to build electric aircraft are focusing on small planes for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, Californians historically have led the way in spreading the popularity of electric cars; why not aircraft?