A new annual competition in Vichy, France will take place for the first time this July in order to develop and bring attention to sustainable energy-economy in the motorized ultralight aircraft (ULM) industry. Calling to mind the wacky inventiveness of the Red Bull Flugtag, the Eco Marathon ULM aims not to achieve furthest flight through human power, but with the least possible fuel. Competitors will undoubtedly hope to amaze more than amuse.

Two categories are open; the first aimed primarily at students and institutions is to produce a radical or free-thinking prototype; the second aimed primarily at manufacturers, is to produce a more conventional serial model suitable for mass production that demonstrates their latest applied research. Both traditional and alternative fuels can be used, or a combination of two in a hybrid model, and although the event calls itself an “eco-marathon” the winner will not be judged on length of flight, or by time – the objective is not to beat speed records or to arrive first, it is to consume the smallest quantity of energy by flying a known distance.

At first reading there is only one rule – that the aircraft must comply to the French ultralight regulation – and organizers hope this lack of restraint will allow for greater creativity. However further reading reveals a few other requirements – an on-board radio must be in constant communication with ground control, parachutes are mandatory, plus an on-board GPS is required to track and record the rectangular flight plan over 12km. Time, distance and speed will all be recorded, as well as electricity consumption. Additionally aircraft sound level and CO² emission will be measured and rewarded. The competitor must run the course three times, and an average taken of two flights. The deciding factor will be kilojoules counterbalanced against the ratio between empty weight and gross weight following a full refuel.

In addition to the air marathon there will also be a static “Trade Fair of Driving Energies” to showcase the use of renewable energy sources applied to automated vehicles. Exhibitors, competitors and manufacturers will explain their technical choices for submission, and publicize their products.

The Eco Marathon ULM, managed by the Vichy Ulltralight Club and the French Fédération (FFPLUM), will take place on July 9th, 10th and 11th 2010 at the Vichy Charmeil aerodrome in Vichy, France. It is hoped that the event will serve to encourage innovation and new thinking in the field of fuel-efficiency and the future of modern transport, to promote results of research within the industry and raise awareness of technical careers, and to improve environmental efforts in terms of energy consumption and atmospheric emissions.

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