AW&ST Magazine, July 31, 2018 – An extract from the AW&ST coverage at EAA AirVenture 2018:

Jul 31, 2018  John Morris | Aviation Week & Space Technology

Once again, the EAA AirVenture annual July event at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, shone the spotlight on emerging technologies that will affect not just general aviation, but also the future development of urban transportation.

Drones, all the rage at the show in the last two years, took a back seat to the latest in manned electric aviation, where evolution is promising a battle between battery-powered vehicles and hybrids that depend on a piston or turbine engine to generate electricity in flight. Right now, it appears that hybrid electric flight will win the race. It also appears that autonomous flight, as envisaged for Uber-type city-based vehicles, is further away than once thought. Piloted electric-powered flight will become practical and enter service long before automation is accepted by the regulators or the public.

Hybrid power is on the fast track
Autonomous flight comes later

Today, there are no regulations that would allow practical, battery-only flight, except for ultralights (with an empty weight of less than 254 lb.). Light sport aircraft (LSA) (with a maximum takeoff weight up to 1,320 lb.) must be powered by a reciprocating engine, which rules out electric. And aircraft in the experimental category cannot be used for commercial activities such as pilot training (except with a difficult to obtain waiver from the FAA). But if a piston or turbine engine provides the electric power via batteries, it is the primary powerplant and complies with today’s rules.