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Sees Passenger Flights By 2025 On Tiny Electric Plane: Norway

Norway tops the world league for per capita sales of electric cars

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People watch a test flight of a two-seat electric plane made by Slovenian firm Pipistrel at Oslo Airport, Norway, June 18, 2018.
People watch a test flight of a two-seat electric plane made by Slovenian firm Pipistrel at Oslo Airport, Norway, June 18, 2018. VOA
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Norway tested a two-seater electric plane on Monday and predicted a start to passenger flights by 2025 if new aviation technologies match a green shift that has made Norwegians the world’s top buyers of electric cars.

Transport Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen and Dag Falk-Petersen, head of state-run Avinor which runs most of Norway’s airports, took a few minutes’ flight around Oslo airport in an Alpha Electro G2 plane, built by Pipistrel in Slovenia.

“This is … a first example that we are moving fast forward” towards greener aviation, Solvik-Olsen told Reuters. “We do have to make sure it is safe – people won’t fly if they don’t trust it.”

He said plane makers such as Boeing and Airbus were developing electric aircraft and that battery prices were tumbling, making it feasible to reach a government goal of making all domestic flights in Norway electric by 2040.

Norwegian Transport Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen and head of the Avinor Dag Falk-Petersen stand next to a two-seat electric plane made by Slovenian company Pipistrel at Oslo Airport, Norway, June 18, 2018.
Norwegian Transport Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen and head of the Avinor Dag Falk-Petersen stand next to a two-seat electric plane made by Slovenian company Pipistrel at Oslo Airport, Norway, June 18, 2018. VOA

Asked when passenger flights in electric planes could start, Falk-Petersen, the pilot, said: “My best guess is before 2025 … It should all be electrified by 2040.”

The two said the plane, with a takeoff weight of 570 kg (1255 lb), was cramped and buffeted by winds but far quieter than a conventional plane run on fossil fuels.

Norway tops the world league for per capita sales of electric cars such as Teslas, Nissan Leafs or Volkswagen Golfs, backed by incentives such as big tax breaks, free parking and exemptions from road tolls.

In May 2018, 56 percent of all cars sold in Norway were either pure electric or hybrids against 46 percent in the same month of 2017, according to official statistics.

Norway, a mountainous country of five million people where fjords and remote islands mean many short-hop routes of less than 200 kms, would be ideal for electric planes, Solvik-Olsen said. Also, 98 percent of electricity in Norway is generated from clean hydro power.

Some opposition politicians said the government needed to do far more to meet green commitments in the 200-nation Paris climate agreement.

A two-seat electric plane made by Slovenian firm Pipistrel stands outside a hangar before a test flight at Oslo Airport, Norway, June 18, 2018.
A two-seat electric plane made by Slovenian firm Pipistrel stands outside a hangar before a test flight at Oslo Airport, Norway, June 18, 2018. VOA

“This is a start … but we have to make jet fuel a lot more expensive,” said Arild Hermstad, a leader of the Green Party.

The first electric planes flew across the English Channel in July 2015, including an Airbus E-Fan. French aviator Louis Bleriot who was first to fly across the Channel, in 1909, in a fossil-fuel powered plane.

Electric planes so far have big problems of weight, with bulky batteries and limited ranges. Both Falk-Petersen and Solvik-Olsen said they had been on strict diets before the flight.

Also read: Norway Emerges Leader, Having World’s Fastest Mobile Internet

“My wife is happy about it,” Solvik-Olsen said. (VOA)

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Electric Fields Used By Spiders To Take Flight: Research

Charles Darwin remarked on the behavior when tiny spiders landed on the HMS Beagle, trailing lines of silk.

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A spider sits in her web. Researchers from England think spiders might be sensing and using electrostatic fields to become airborne.
A spider sits in her web. Researchers from England think spiders might be sensing and using electrostatic fields to become airborne. VOA

Since the 1800s, scientists have marveled at how spiders can take flight using their webbing. Charles Darwin remarked on the behavior when tiny spiders landed on the HMS Beagle, trailing lines of silk. He thought the arachnids might be using heat-generated updrafts to take to the sky, but new research shows a totally different cause may be at play.

Erica Morley and Daniel Robert from the University of Bristol in England were interested in exploring a second explanation for the spiders’ ability. They thought spiders might sense and use electrostatic fields in the air.

“There have been several studies looking at how air movement and wind can get spiders airborne, but the electrostatic hypothesis was never tested,” Morley told VOA.

Some observers suggested electrostatic fields might be the reason the multiple draglines some spiders use to float don’t get tangled with each other. Biologist Kimberley Sheldon from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, who was not involved in the new research, pointed out that “though these spiders will have five or six draglines, those strands of silk do not get entangled. So we’ve known for a while that electrostatics probably [are] at least interacting with the spider, with the silk lines themselves, to keep them from getting tangled.”

Morley and Robert created a box with a grounded metal plate on the bottom and a plate on the top that they could pass an electrical current through. The scientists placed spiders in the box and turned on the voltage, watching as the creatures reacted to the electric field.

Reaction to current

When the electric field was on, the spiders lifted their abdomens into the air and started tiptoeing by raising up on the very ends of their legs. Morley told VOA that spiders only tiptoe right before they release silk draglines to fly away, in a process called ballooning.

And when the spiders did balloon and rise into the air, turning off the electric current caused them to drop.

Sheldon compared it to taking a balloon and rubbing it against your clothing. “If you hold the balloon [near your head], your hair stands on end. That’s kind of what’s happening with the spider silk.”

Spiders Use Electric Fields to Take Flight: Research
Spiders Use Electric Fields to Take Flight: Research. Pixabay

Clearly the spiders were able to sense the local electrostatic field and respond appropriately by releasing silk, but Morley and Robert wanted to know how.

“As a sensory biologist, I was keen to understand what sensory system they might use to detect electric fields,” said Morley. “We know that they have very sensitive hairs that are displaced by air movements or even sound. So I thought that it’s possible that they might be using these same hairs to detect electric fields.”

This was exactly what she observed. The small hairs along the spiders’ legs react not only to physical experiences like a breeze but also to the electric field. In nature, it makes sense for spiders to sense both the electrostatic field around them as well as wind conditions. Spiders probably use both when taking off and navigating the skies.

Mathematician Longhua Zhao from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland has made computer models of how spiders balloon. She told VOA, “I think that both the electrical field and the fluid mechanics [of air flow] are important. They definitely play very important roles. However, we don’t know at this point which is the dominant factor.”

Also read: Did You Hear about the New Species of Spiders Named After Leonardo DiCaprio, Bernie Sanders and Barrack Obama?

Lead researcher Morley pointed out that spiders aren’t the only invertebrates to balloon. “Caterpillars and spider mites, which are arachnids but not spiders, balloon as well.” Morley hopes to see others follow up her research to see if these other animals respond in a way similar to the spiders. (VOA)