It had to happen eventually. Several practical electric paramotor designs now exist.
The first of these was developed by Csaba Lemak and Patrick MacKenzie who managed to beat the considerable technical odds against them. They eventually got the weight down and the power up to make this type of flying a reality, beyond the 'proof of concept' stage. There's a photo of it up there on the right, courtesy of Mark Andrews.
I've seen electric radio controlled models fly, and they perform similarly to the much noisier 2-strokes. It might not come as a surprise then to learn that the Lemak paramotor is basically an electric model aircraft motor on steroids! Apparently the Lemak prototype was powered by 112 Lithium Polymer batteries and a custom wound three phase motor weighing 1.5 kg (3.3 lbs).
Although the very first electric motor to fly kept the wing in the air for less than 4 minutes, durations have now increased to around the 40 minute mark. As at March 2008. Somewhere around the middle of this year, several companies will be attempting to bring out commercial versions of their prototypes. We'll all be hearing a lot more about them then!
Currently, there are 8 teams spread through Canada, China, France, Germany, The Netherlands and the U.K. all trying to push the limits of electric paramotor technology.
The design goals do vary somewhat. For example, it's not always about maximum duration. Other teams have tried and failed, since there is no big organization throwing money at these aviation pioneers.
Sounds a bit like the very earliest aviation pioneers doesn't it...
The video below is typical, from the few that are currently floating around on the Web.... Errm, no pun intended! Most of the videos show gentle low-level flying. One shows Csaba himself talking at length about his prototype.
There's a great take-off sequence in the video, plus a low level fly-past featuring a short conversation between the pilot and an observer on the ground. With no radio assistance, mind you!
Electric paramotoring isn't a totally silent affair. Have a listen to the prop noise during the fly-past!
There are also some interesting statistic. The energy cost of flying in this manner, in North America, was about 28 cents per hour when the video was made.
Also, this wing/motor combination can stay in the air for about 45 minutes with no thermal or slope lift assistance.
Here's just a little more detail on 3 of the development efforts, 2 of which I have mentioned already.
The effort led by Csaba Lemak is not the only one to achieve great things. There are other notable achievements in the race to make personal electric flying machines viable.
Milestone: The very first electric paramotor flight
Date: sometime in 2001
Company: Helix Propellers
Pilot: Richard Krüger-Sprengel
Comments: Used Nickel-Cadmium batteries, flight durations under 4 minutes
Milestone: The first practical electric paraglider demonstrated
Date: sometime in 2006
Company: private - Csaba Lemak and others
Pilot: Csaba Lemak
Comments: Used RC model aircraft technology to achieve sustained flight with an electric powered paraglider
Milestone: The first electric paraglider to make launching into thermals practical (best height gain approx. 450 meters - 1500 feet)
Date: sometime in 2007
Company: Razeebus Aircrafts
Comments: Focus on maximum performance both power on and off - to the extent of using no protective cage for the prop!
Battery technology is very important to the overall performance of any electric vehicle, particularly one that is supposed to fly! It's all about power to weight ratio, and how long the unit can keep delivering energy before it needs a re-charge.
Here's the general sequence of batteries used over the years since the first electric powered paraglider flew...
LiPo batteries are more volatile than Lithium Ion, but apparently careful design of the controllers can make them very safe for aviation use. These batteries are also more expensive than Lithium Ion. The faithful old NiCads have been left in the dust!
Much more, and right up-to-date. There is one website that is entirely devoted to the emerging electric powered paragliding scene. If you are very interested in keeping up with the latest developments, this is the place to go. The webmaster is also a co-author of a well known powered paragliding book.