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Electric Airplane Sets Speed Record

Pilot Maurizio Cheli, seen here in the cockpit with a view of his plane from the ground, too, banks left in the electric SkySpark. Cheli hit a top speed of 155 mph (250 km/h) on June 10, 2009, during an 8-minute flight. That's said to be a speed record speed for a 100-percent electrically powered aircraft, according to SkySpark. (Image credit: SkySpark)

The mainstream media flat missed this one, but we think it's a rather cool breakthrough.

Earlier this month, Italian astronaut Maurizio Cheli electrified the green flying world (okay, it's a small — but dedicated — group) with his record-setting flight of a fully electric airplane.

The electric SkySpark flew for the first time June 8, then on June 10 was airborne for 8 minutes and hit a top speed of 155 mph (250 km/h). That speed is said to be a record speed for a 100-percent electrically powered aircraft, according to SkySpark.

The project is a joint enterprise between engineering company DigiSky and Turin Polytechnic University.

The two-seat Pioneer Alpi 300 is powered by a 75-kW electric motor using brushless technology and lithium polymer batteries, a SkySpark statement explains. Electronic control systems make it possible to modulate RPM and torque, "with dynamics which are far beyond what it is attainable in reciprocating engines."

The flight was made at the World Air Games 2009 in Turin, Italy.

SkySpark's efforts, begun in 2007, are led by Cheli, a retired Lt. Col. in the Italian Air Force and a European Space Agency astronaut, who is also a flight engineer and flew as a mission specialist on a 1996 space shuttle mission. Cheli aims to "build a complete 'ecological' aircraft" that can fly even faster than the new record, using hydrogen fuel cells.

{{ video="LS_090625_Electric-Airplane" title="Record-Setting Electric Airplane Flight" caption="The electric SkySpark airplane hit 155 mph (250 km/h) on June 10, 2009 in an 8-minute flight, a speed record speed for a 100-percent electrically powered aircraft, according to SkySpark. Credit: SkySpark" }}

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Robert Roy Britt
Rob was a writer and editor at Space.com starting in 1999. He served as managing editor of Live Science at its launch in 2004. He is now Chief Content Officer overseeing media properties for the sites’ parent company, Purch. Prior to joining the company, Rob was an editor at The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, and in 1998 he was founder and editor of the science news website ExploreZone. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.