Yates breaks speed record at IYK

Pilot takes experimental aircraft scene by storm just one week after getting his license

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Yates breaks speed record at IYKInnovator-turned-pilot Chip Yates crushed the world record for speed in an electric airplane on Thursday morning at Inyokern Airport. But when he tells his story this week as a featured presenter at Oshkosh — the annual Mecca for the experimental aviation community — the highlight of his experience may be the emergency landing he executed just seven days after getting his pilot’s license.

His aviation milestone was documented by the high-speed radars and cameras of China Lake and marked by a small but faithful crowd of fans who have been following the groundbreaking strides of Yates and his Flight of the Century team.

Yates and FOTC engineer Mike Beadle landed at IYK July 8. On July 12 Yates received his pilot’s license. After several high-speed taxi tests and a first flight on July 18, Yates took out his “Long ESA” — his Long-EZ redubbed as “Electric Speed and Altitude” — on July 19 and achieved a speed of 202 miles per hour, defeating the previous record of 175.

The witnesses on the ground quickly lost site of Yates and his chase plane — a Cessna 182 piloted by John Birdsall. Onlookers were ecstatic when Yates announced over the radio that he had broken the record. But that quickly changed when he said, only seconds later, that he had lost power. He soon came back into sight, and glided his plane down in what one nearby veteran described as a near-perfect landing.

Yates came out to IYK for the freedom and flexibility afforded by the remote location, whose clear skies, diverse climate and the restricted airspace of the nearby military research, development, test and evaluation site are making the airport an increasingly popular destination for RDT&E in private industry and allied military forces.

Flight of the Century’s feat is just the first step in the company’s plan to develop a technology for a system of drone batteries that are swapped out as they become depleted to potentially keep an unmanned aircraft in perpetual flight. (See related story, this page.)

The company was born out of Yates’ accomplishments on the racing circuit, where in just a few short months he smashed the record on his electric motorcycle before retiring his bike in September 2011.

After a short sabbatical to recover from two years of 16-hour days, he and his team got back to work last November with the goal of moving their new technology forward. One of the first steps on that path was capturing speed and altitude records in Burt Rutan’s Long-EZ, which has been converted by FOTC into electric power.

The state and national media outlets recording his feat are also underscoring the short timeframe of his accomplishments.

In a happy coincidence, Assemblymember Shannon Grove — who was on hand touring IYK with the China Lake Alliance — had the opportunity to meet Yates and his team as they were celebrating their success. (And hard at work assessing and correcting the technical end of the flight).

Grove said she plans to bring him to Sacramento to share his part of the story in California’s burgeoning private aerospace industry — which has recently seen a renaissance in the state thanks in part to the leadership at Mojave Air and Space Port.

The conservative representative of Indian Wells Valley said she also plans to honor Yates with a resolution on the Assembly Floor when the legislature reconvenes in August.

“Chip Yates’ achievement is a shining example of East Kern innovation and highlights the importance of creating and retaining jobs in California’s vital aerospace industry,” said Grove.

She added that Yates’ record-breaking electric plane bodes well for the application of renewable energy sources in the future of air travel.

“I have no doubt that East Kern will be on the cutting edge of that research and development.”

Story First Published: 2012-07-25