The EAA Kit Planes & Aircraft Maintenance - Part 2by Editor - Daniel Brindley | July 20, 2020

H55 Bristell Energic
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Part 2 of my conversation with Jim Phillips. Battery powered Aircraft, Drones and the Generation Gap

D= Daniel Brindley J= Jim Philips Board Member EAA


D: So, there’s been big growth over the last decade in battery technology, computer hardware and software that now make it possible to fly without the need of a piston engine. Is this the future of flying?

J: Well, I think other forces of propulsion are going to be available and probably will be used to a large extent at some point.  Whether it will eliminate the piston engine?  I guess that strikes me as being quite a way off.  But there are a number of electric options that are coming on the market. And there is certainly a lot of work being done by, not only, some of the manufacturers but some of the high-tech companies who are looking at the potential of air transportation.  Whether it’s the Googles, the  Alphabets, or others.  There is a lot of time and money being thrown at that right now.

D: It is interesting when you look at the big car manufacturers, they’ve hit the peak in terms of sales on their combustion engine cars.  At the same time, you have Tesla, a strong brand battery powered that’s forcing a lot of car manufactures to go down the same route, spending billions on battery powered cars even though they are unsure of the sales opportunity.  I feel there is a big electric technology shift coming with aircraft too. 

J: Yeah, I think the issue now is really the battery technology, and planes more than anything, there is a trade-off between weight and performance quite often. And in an electric car, it’s probably a trade-off between range, I guess, if you will.  And so, a lot of the work that’s been done, and some that are coming out are trying to get into the training market initially.  It is ideal if you take a student up for an hour, or someone goes up and does an hour or so of a practice flight, getting license or getting an advanced license.  It’s ideal to only have a battery capacity that would need to last a couple of hours. 

D: That is really interesting. How does the FAA see that? 

J: Generally, the FAA regulate by putting certain groups, or types of planes in certain categories. So, a Sea Plane might be in a different category than a Land Plane.  Or a helicopter is in a different category, but many small planes are all in the same category whether they are powered by a 4-cylinder engine or a 6-cylinder engine, or an electric engine. 

The important thing for most people to know, is anytime you transition from one plane to another plane.  You really should have some instruction to make sure that you are familiar with the flight characteristics of that plane.  Different planes fly differently, and just because you are allowed by your license to fly, does not mean that’s it’s smart to fly without getting some training.


D: And in light of business demands to fly drones commercially, and obviously the FAA’s commitment to a regulatory framework to fly drones beyond the line-of-sight, do you see this as something that the EAA would want to get more involved with, if it comes to fruition?

J: Yeah, I think the EAA has tried to be involved, and would like to have some sort of voice at the table about how the framework for drones is ultimately created and implemented.

D: Why is that?

J: Well, I think there are a lot of competing interests.  It would be nice to ultimately have a system that can work well for everyone. There is a lot of commercial push right now to use drones for various business reasons. Which is good, but if it ends up creating a safety issue for general aviation, that is bad.  Trying to make sure that the system can develop in a way that everyone is appropriately taken into account. 

D: Great point and there have been some scary incidents involving drones colliding with planes or being in the wrong airspace. 

J: Well, I think there are ways in which EAA could be helpful in terms of acting as a venue for people to get together to explore about the use of drones, explore about the options for acquiring drones, how they can be used…. Again, the education piece that we talked about, the marketplace piece we talked about, I think that’s where EAA can help deliver some value, and create opportunities for members, as well as the public.


D: OK, there is this stereotype that most of the people that fly into Oshkosh are in their 60s and 70s, or maybe beyond.  Do you think it will be hard to get the younger generations to fly (brought up in the digital age with the internet, drones and other digital distractions)  Could it mean that the EAA is a smaller or different organization if they can’t get enough people involved in flying? 

J: I think a lot of airlines have gotten nervous recently about having enough pilots to fly the planes they are producing.  That being said, EAA’s membership has actually been growing, not shrinking, which I think indicates there is still a lot of interest in aviation.  Maybe the involvement in aviation comes in different ways.  You don’t have to build a plane to be a member of EAA, you can be a member and participate and get something out of it, in a variety of different ways. EAA has tried to recognize, that there is a very broad way in which someone can be connected to aviation.  But I think some of the barriers you listed: time, alternatives, dollars, those are all meaningful barriers for some people.

D: What is the EAA doing to encourage young people to get into flying? Are guys doing any specific programs or anything? I mean I am sure that the airlines are coming to you guys, and saying: *Hey, look, can you help us out? Can you help us promote pilots?* Or are they just exhibiting and doing it themselves? 

J: EAA does have some scholarship programs, and it’s had some people that have helped fund scholarships to try to get young adults involved in aviation and actually get them to the point where they have their license.  EAA, for years, has had a program called the *Young Eagles Program* that is designed to try to get people out to airports, and especially kids, give them rides so they have chance to experience, when they’re young, what is like and hopefully take some of the mystery away.  It does an awful lot of education for kids, partly in the general Oshkosh area, there are a lot school kids, but it is also involved in putting programming together that could be used, pretty much throughout the country and the world.  These educational opportunities, especially given a lot of the emphasis that schools now have on science and technology.  The EAA is trying in a variety of ways to help bend the curve in the other direction.

Final Words 

D: When you look at that initial plane that you built, I’m not sure I would have the confidence in myself to build something that safe, and then to go off and fly it.  I mean that’s quite a feat, not only to build something yourself, but to get in it, and then fly the thing.  I’m sure that was quite an experience you’ll never forget, especially your first flight, right?

J: Yeah, well I’ve done TWO first flights, and I would have to say, there is nothing better than sitting on the end of a runway, with the plane pointed down at the end of a long runway, getting ready to push the throttle.  Thinking:  I know this is supposed to fly, I know it’s a proven design, I know I did everything right, but will it REALLY perform?  And I would say in both cases, the experience exceeded my expectation, in terms of fun.  A lot of people look at various things in their life, whether it’s a marriage, or whatever it might be, this is one of those, that you just can’t explain what it’s like to do.  Although I will say, like a lot of unknowns, flying seems so complicated, and it seems like it’s mysterious, and when you build a plane, you realize it’s just something to hold a couple of wings, and a seat, and an engine and a tail together.  And it’s not that complicated. It’s easy to do. I don’t know if you’ve flown in a small plane.

D: No.

J: I should take you up at some point. 

D: I might take you up on that offer (nervous laughter).

J: It’s really not difficult, people get this sense It’s dangerous It’s not.  There are a lot of ways in which safety was built into everything that people do.  It’s a great either hobby, or it’s great to use for business, it allows the world to shrink. 

D: Thank-you for your time Jim very much appreciated look forward to speaking soon.

J: My pleasure.