Team Yates does it again!

Innovator in electric flight breaks new records, captivates fans

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Team Yates does it again!Setting and breaking existing records and being featured in a documentary has become a regular weekend at Inyokern Airport for Chip Yates, whose exploits in electric flight have been captivating local audiences since his arrival in the high desert in summer 2012.

And while his achievements have been well documented nationally through high-profile magazine features, industry lectures and a TED talk, his efforts to push the boundaries of human flight capabilities in his electrically powered Long EZ have also garnered him a following in the technical community.

Although Yates had already officially logged two altitude records and one climb record with the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, his previous speed records of 202 mph (set at Inyokern) and 220 mph (set at the Capitol Airshow), had not been validated by the international agency.

An FAI official flew in Friday to log and validate Yates’ record attempts over the weekend, but the soggy weather threatened to rain him out. After a day’s delay, Yates took his plane up on Saturday to fly for videographer Jay Teegarden, who was on hand to chronicle Yates’ achievements for a digital film project.

The result was Yates unintentionally setting a new official record (beating the previously held 175 mph) with a high of 207.5 and an average of 201.

On Sunday Yates shaved a minute off of one of his own previously held altitude records — climbing 12,500 feet in 5 minutes, 28 seconds. “That beats even most gas-powered planes,” said Yates.

“I feel like this weekend capped off our mission to capture these records, which has been the work of three months. In that time we saw every kind of failure, emergency landings, weather complications — pretty much every obstacle you can think of,” he said.

“And the reason it took this long is because it is hard. We are literally pushing the boundaries of what has ever been accomplished in an electric aircraft.”

Those endeavors have attracted a groundswell of people who have watched Yates overcome that adversity to achieve his goals.

Among those is Teegardin himself, who works for Red Digital Cinema. As someone who is watching his own industry evolve through the advancement of digital technology, he said he is interested in people like Yates who are similarly pushing technological boundaries.

“This weekend was a life-changing experience that I will never forget, and I am truly grateful to have witnessed it through the lens of the best camera in the world,” said Teegardin.

His shoot took him up in the air in Yates’ chase plane, piloted by Zachary Reeder, on the taxiway from the back of a moving truck and on top of a fire engine. “This is the kind of thing that you can’t capture on a film camera,” he said.

“I came out here because I wanted to be able to tell the world about what Chip is doing — he is an inspiration to humanity and I am ecstatic knowing this will be forever part of history.”

Yates’ flight also attracted a handful of fans who watched from the ground, as well as a crew from Kern County Fire Station 73, who typically show up whenever Yates attempts another record.

But among the most enthusiastic of Yates supporters are the hordes of young people who have come to look to him as an inspiration.

“I was both humbled and surprised by this,” admitted Yates, whose appearance at the recent Cal UAS Day was one of the highlights for local youth.

“People of all ages want to rally around something. But for kids, I think the reason this is important to them is because the kinds of celebrities they have to look up to are generally movie stars or musicians.

“We definitely didn’t expect this, but I think what happened is young people are seeing a new kind of ‘celebrity’ that can come from scientific achievement. Once we figured out they were connecting with our message, we adjusted our trajectory in order to cultivate that interest. So now talking to kids is one of my main focuses,” said Yates.

“And if you think about it, you can name thousands of people who are famous in our culture. But how many of those are known for technical achievement? Not very many. Some how the significance science and technology plays is not getting through to our younger generations. If I can help broadcast to kids all the cool things they can do with science, I feel very lucky.”

Yates’ youthful, high-energy persona appears to have an intrinsic appeal to the younger crowd, but Yates also points to his history as something that resonates with students.

“One part of achievement that isn’t really talked about is all the failures that are associated with accomplishment. We generally hear about the end result. What I try to do is get kids to see that when you have some kind of failure, it usually informs you about some way to improve what you are doing.”

“I feel very fortunate to have Chip Yates at Inyokern Airport,” said CEO Scott Seymour. “He has become an unofficial ambassador not only for the youth, but also for the kind of opportunity we have for advancing aerospace capabilities in Inyokern.

“Chip is also just the kind of person you want to have on your team. The excitement and enthusiasm he generates is infectious. He takes risks and throws his boundless energy behind his endeavors and that is what makes things happen. I think what we’ve seen so far is just the beginning of his potential.”

Story First Published: 2013-11-27