Battery Problems

Overheated Li-ion battery from a 787

Boeing had fair warning that there could be problems with lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries but went ahead and used them in its 787 Dreamliner. Now the fleet is grounded because at least one Li-ion battery has caught fire.

The warning came from Cessna and its CJ4 business jet. The CJ4, which is the biggest, fastest and longest range member of the Citation CJ family of light business jets, was the first to use a Li-ion battery as the main ships battery when the airplane entered service in 2010.

The CJ4 has one of the most advanced electrical systems of any light business jet because it has four power sources instead of the normal two. There are the primary starter-generators, one on each engine, and either one can carry the entire electrical load. Each engine also has a small wild frequency alternator that provides power for anti-ice heating elements. That is not unusual in jets, but what is different is that Cessna installed rectifiers that can convert the AC output of either small alternator into enough DC power to keep all essential equipment operating if both primary generators fail.

On top of that, the Li-ion battery seemed like magic. The battery weighed about 30 pounds less than a conventional battery, but had enough capacity to power all equipment necessary for night IFR flight for 45 minutes instead of the required 30 minutes.

The CJ4 is a terrific performer and a delight to fly. It’s hard to believe that the little original CJ could grow into a jet of such speed, range and cabin comfort. And I remember the Cessna people telling me when I first flew it how well the Li-ion battery was performing and how extensively it had been tested to earn certification.

Being first with the Li-ion battery the FAA issued what it calls special conditions for CJ4 certification. The battery had to be heated and abused more than a normal nicad or lead acid battery, and it had to be treated as a potential fire hazard because under rare conditions the electrolyte can burn. Cessna went well beyond the FAA requirements and the Li-ion battery performed flawlessly in testing and certification flying.

But when the CJ4 entered service there were soon problems with the Li-ion battery. It wasn’t performing as it had during certification testing. And at least one Li-ion battery overheated to the point of smoking, if not actually on fire. The FAA issued an AD requiring all of the Li-ion batteries to be replaced by a nicad or lead acid.

I’m sure Boeing engineers feel at least a little superior to little old Cessna so they may not have paid much attention to the CJ4 Li-ion battery experience. And the source of problems in the CJ4 is believed to be ground power units set for the wrong voltage. Large airplanes like the 787 have APUs that provide ground electrical power and air conditioning so they are almost never plugged into ground power carts during normal operations.

It’s been something like 50 years since new battery technology was introduced for aircraft and that was the nicad. And it didn’t go well at first. Like the Li-ion, the nicad was smaller and lighter than a lead acid battery of the same capacity. And the nicad has lower internal resistance so it can pump out more amps quickly than a lead acid battery, and that is very important during a turbine engine start when the engine must accelerate rapidly or melt.

But the lower internal resistance of a nicad also makes it more susceptible to a thermal runaway than a lead acid battery. Pilot legend has it that at least a few nicad batteries suffered thermal runaways and melted their way right through the battery mount and fell out of the airplane.

The concern over nicad overheating is so great that all nicads have temperature monitoring. If the battery heats beyond a certain threshold—typically around 160 degrees F—it becomes an emergency and the battery is switched out of the charging system by the pilots. If the battery temperature doesn’t start down once the charge is removed the checklist calls for an emergency landing as soon as possible.

There have been improvements in lead acid battery technology to the point that the nicad’s advantages have diminished. Many turbine aircraft operators have switched to lead acid because the cost is much lower than for a nicad, and no special maintenance is required for the lead acid as for the nicad. The lead acid battery doesn’t last as long between replacements, but the cost difference is enough that lifecycle cost is typically lower for the lead acid. And you don’t need to worry about thermal runaway with the lead acid.

It took several years, but the early problems with nicad batteries have been resolved. So will it just take time to get the Li-ion battery right, or is it simply the wrong technology for aircraft. The solution in the CJ4 was straightforward with a return to conventional batteries. Will Boeing do the same thing? Or are the characteristics of the Li-ion so fundamental to 787 operation that the big jet couldn’t function with the lower performance of a nicad or lead acid. We’ll see.

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57 Responses to Battery Problems

  1. Kayak Jack says:

    Some of our battery technology is a century old, but it still works. Lithium ion batteries hold a lot of promise – look at out iPads. They also present a lot of problems.

    We seem to be way behind in development of a “better” battery, and way ahead on development of other areas. Fer instance, flashlights using LED’s with Ni Cad batteries can out perform lights using incandescent bulbs and any other battery.

    Bulbs have taken several steps, while batteries seem to still lag. Still lots of room for new inventors.

    PS: Mac, ask someone to proof-read your script before printing?

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  3. Caleb says:

    This is all interesting but how does it relate to sport flying? I will never be able to fly, and unlikely to ride, in a Boeing 787 or a Cessna CJ4. It would have been nice to hear how, or even if, the batteries that are used in the 787 relate to those that are currently available for my experimental project aircraft.

    • Bill Sanford says:

      Caleb, it’s of aviation interest. It’s topical. It’s today’s big headline. We’ll return to it being all about you tomorrow, ok?

      • Caleb says:

        Of course its of aviation interest and its a great topic. Instead of writing about how Boeing should have looked at what Cessna did in the CJ4 so they could have avoided problems (a valid point), it would have been nice to hear how the Boeing story relates to sport aviation. The top right of the header on Mac’s blog is “EAA Sport Aviation”. I would have liked to see this related to sport aviation, not commercial aircraft development.

        • Bacon says:

          Boeing is the first large aircraft manufacturer to use li-ion batteries. That sounds pretty experimental…

        • Pete says:

          I heard this kind of anti-Mac sentiment before, and never paid it much attention. I thought it was just Mac’s blog, as it always was. But come to think of it, there is a price to pay for having this kind of link to EAA. Maybe Mac would be better served by keeping it standalone.

    • John Palmerlee says:

      All pilots and passengers are quite likely to be impacted by battery technology in the next 10 to 20 years because within that time, you will be seeing a set of neat, quiet, much cheaper to operate and more reliable light aircraft on the market – all powered entirely by electric. There will be gridlock reducing electric sky taxis operating in an autonomous mode for safety and collision avoidance. Battery tech variations are sprouting all over the industry, most of which sport less flamable, more robust, higher energy density technologies that make this decade a very exciting one, indeed, for all transportation sectors.

    • Ken says:

      I agree Caleb. The is lazy reporting. Dig in and tell us how this relates to us little guys. Specifically, what about the LiFePo4 batteries currently being used in sport airplanes? Just another indication of where EAA has gone.

    • David says:

      Caleb, thank you. As an EAA member, how about tying this into what the EAA represents? It’s great writing, but to be frank, I’m really tired of the “there I was at 20,000 feet in my Citation, Baron..” etc, stories. How about a “and there I was, doing a new weight and balance with my new Li-ion battery in my Pietenpol” story? I’m starting to feel EAA has forgotten that an RV isn’t only a $200,000 motor coach. Please, direct some of this great talent to us guys, the backbone of the EAA, the homebuilders. I have other magazines if I want in depth reading about Citations and Boeings problems.

      • Tom says:

        Pietenpol? Really? You think that’s experimental?

        It sounds like what you really want is a blog for “antique homebuilts that require no creativity and don’t involve any real experimentation.”

        How about you go design your own NEW airframe. That would be experimental. “Oh,” you say, “but that would take some knowledge of engineering and aerodynamics. We little guys can’t be expected to learn anything beyond gluing sticks together.”

        Give me a break. Learn what really makes an aircraft fly and do something truly experimental. That’s what I want to read about. Not your antique make-it-yourself ultralight.

        • DEL says:

          Even if you can, indeed, design your own airframe, build it, fly it and survive — which needs proof stronger than just implying so — you have no justification to disrespect people who can’t, or won’t.

          • Tom says:

            For proof that one can design, build, and successfully fly a new airframe, you need look no further than your own small airport. Where did the idea for all those aircraft come from? From people who experimented and took risks.

            Don’t get me wrong. I mean no disrespect to those who designed–or to those who build copies of–the Pietenpol. It’s a sound airframe with a long history.

            My beef is with those who bash people who write about and love real experimentation, regardless of whether done in my garage or at FL410. Our association is not called the Sport Aircraft Association or the Homebuilt Aircraft Association. It’s called the Experimental Aircraft Association for a reason.

            Again, please don’t misunderstand me. People like VanGrunsven, Hamilton, and Neibauer have done great things for sport aviation, and those who assemble one of their kits can be proud. Not every EAA member, though, just wants to read about the first flight of RV number 7,523.

        • Lupita says:

          Every time you transfer enegy from one farmot to another, you lose part of the energy. You are transferring energy three times, so you will be pedalling like mad while you are barely moving.

    • Bud Skriba says:

      As a long-time advocate of electric poweref flight, and as a participant in the EAA electric aircraft symposiums… I believe this issue is very relevant to “sport aviation.” First, Dr Don Hillebrand of Argonne National Laboratory, (who spoke repeatedly at the EAA Electric Airplane seminars and is the head of ANL’s 300-man battery development program) has clearly said this summer that we are still a long way away from the perfect battery for aviation (which must be: light enough, long lasting enough, powerful enough, SAFE enough, small enough, fast charging/discharging enough, and CHEAP enough (to provide tens of gigajoules of “traction power” for sport aviation… we are not there yet)… Putting a battery and an electric motor on a glider does NOT count. :-)
      Second, since the entire Lithium battery industry has been uable to power the GM VOLT in a way that creates a real market for an electric car, the Department of Energy under Nobel Prize winner Dr. Chu, has committed 150 million dollars to a new “battery research center” at ANL, here in Chicago, to create breakthrough battery technology that is FIVE times more powerful, AND is FIVE times lower in cost, and all to be proven within only FIVE years of R&D (the extent of this goverment’s start-up seed money and tree-hugger Obama’s term in office)…. but no mention was made for that technology to be 5 times safer. :-)
      LASTLY, Bottom line… this grounding of the 787 is EXACTLY what the advanced battery industry needs to push the technology into very high visibility/success. The Lithium bats in that plane came from some bogus Japanese supplier, so IMHO blame will be properly put on the supplier.. but IMHO the real reason this is getting so much press is that the media and several government agencies are trying to punish Boeing corporate management for out-sourcing much of the aircraft’s design, construction and technology done to AVOID THE COST OF UNIONIZED BOEING ENGINEERING STAFFING that is pissed that management is trying to avoid paying high wages in Seattle. In reality, I would fly in any 787 in a heatbeat, just want the battery to be made in good-ol US of A, built to NASA level quality specs..
      The future of sport aviation (aka its propulsion) is certainly to be powered electrically (within 20-30 years IMHO), but the energy source is NOT going to be Lithium… too many things are against it… RATHER, the real solution IMHO will be a breakthrough in the generation, storage, and utilization of Hydrogen… BUT that humble opinion and $7 will get you only a cup of Starbuck’s coffee. :-) … learn more at

      • Captbilly says:

        Obama is a tree hugger? Since when? I have been flying since I was 16, private, military and commercial, but I also run a solar R@D company, and I haven’t seem much government tree hugging ….. well…. ever. Some members of government talk green but this green talk has never translated into a coherent policy. Carter tried to set the US on a sustainable energy path but that ended the day he stepped out of the White House.

        I have wasted my fair share of fossil fuels (moral flexibility?) but I know that we had better start “tree hugging” or else we will be living (dying actually) on a hopelessly polluted planet.

        • Bud Skriba says:

          Captain Billy;
          Just a little political humor…
          Politically, I am so far to the right I now find myself to the extreme left of the few credible tree huggers that are left (pun intended)… this said by someone who has enjoyed “climate change” (aka warming) in Chicago with ZERO snow storms this year at O’Hare..  Try a January VFR landing with my brother’s Cherokee in northern Minnesota, in the winter, at some fishing/hunting lodge… Warming… bring it on.
          Seriously, It was Dr. Hillebrand at ANL who, when working for the White House, a few years ago, got President Bush 2 to put the idea of a hydrogen fueled “Freedom Car” commitment for DOE’s research in his state of the union address… A billion dollars later, we still do not have a viable H2 fuel solution for any “vehicles” (not even space shuttles, no more)…
          Dr. Chu (Barry O’Bammy’s main man re; energy research) basically cancelled that H2 research, and instead pushed for improving Lithium cathode research that was to make possible Unionized Government Motors (aka GM) sell a million VOLTs by 2015. And you know the market’s response to that by now.
          Glad to meet someone R&Ding in Solar reading this blog and knowing what he is talking about. As you should know, captain, the big deal today in energy is the idea of “distributed storage” of electrical energy (now assumed to be future super-batteries in your back yard/car which the public will pay for) to deal with all the reasons we are running out of any kind of grid distributed energy (nukes were blown off the continental table, investors in solar farms have gotten burned (pun intended), claimed wind energy solution efficiencies are blown out of proportion if/when the grid does not want to buy the juice when/if the wind is blowing, and natural gas (which flares-off more methane at oil well-heads around the world than is liquefied for distribution) is still a CO2 baddie.
          FUTURE aircraft will be electric powered because, at LN2 cryogenic temperatures, we can have super-conducting motors and generators so small, light and powerful that entirely new designs of aircraft (now being developed by Boeing in Blended-Wing-Body shapes) will be possible, quiet, AND energy efficient (as long as the needed extension cord can be made 5,000K long and get FAA approval )
          Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Lemont stands ready to help Chicago-based Boeing solve its lithium-ion battery problems in the now-grounded 787 Dreamliner model of airplane, the battery expert said Friday…. The offer came at the prompting of Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., a senior appropriator on the Energy and Water Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. In a letter Friday, he asked Argonne, a leader in lithium battery technology, “to lend its expert knowledge to Boeing” as the company works with the Federal Aviation Administration to address the technical problems related to the Dreamliner’s lithium battery leakage…. “LEND????”
          Argonne Director Eric Isaacs said in a statement that Argonne is willing to help. “While Boeing has not contacted Argonne for its scientific and engineering expertise and support, an important reason U.S. Department of Energy research facilities like Argonne exist is to collaborate with American companies to resolve complex technical and scientific challenges that will usher in a new age in energy, energy efficiency and energy technologies.”

    • David says:

      How does it relate to GA? I can tell you that in motorcycle circles Li batteries are the new hot item. Why would motorcyclists be into Li batteries? Simple they are smaller and lighter. I would be surprised if some of those small, light, but powerful batteries didn’t end up in Homebuilts soon.

  4. Michael Kobb says:

    Didn’t I read that Boeing designed the Dreamliner to be able to use either Lithium Ion batteries, or NiCd? If that’s accurate, then a switch to NiCd would be the obvious fallback plan unless a cause of these incidents can be identified and rectified easily.

    • Pete says:

      Tu-154 that landed in a clear-cut at Izhma was brought down by thermal runaway in NiCd batteries (it is famous for having the jet fly out after the field repair – literally done in a field in this case). So it’s not just an OWT and not a straightforward replacement with an obvious safety benefit.

  5. pete willetts says:

    anyone that operates large jets..especially for the airlines..knows that they are on ground power much more that APU power..which is discouraged because of cost..

  6. gregg reynolds says:

    Mac’s sneering imaginative comment about “Boeing engineers feeling superior…” is beyond the pale. Shame on you, old top.

  7. Roger Hasltead says:

    There are a number of things to consider with advancing battery technology, but there is a given, which Mac touched on, that can not be ignored and that is internal resistance. To get more capacity from a given size and that is current density which relates directly to internal resistance. Each advancement in capacity has been accompanied by a drop of internal resistance. So Ni-cads had a lower internal resistance than lead acid and Li Ion have a much lower resistance than Ni-Cads. Each time you lower that internal resistance the faster the battery can deliver its charge. As we’ve seen with laptops that little battery holds a lot of energy that can deliver quite a wallop. Not quite an explosion…yet!

    Whats the difference between equal volumes of jet-A and a stick of dynamite? To begin, the jet A (or gas) has considerably more energy, but it takes a lot more time to get the energy out of it. Old battery tech is like the fuel, wile cutting edge battery technology is like the dynamite or becoming more like it. Wait till we end up with superconductor batteries…if the government will let us have them. one of those batteries could contain far more energy than most any fuel and be capable of releasing it in either micro or Milli seconds with the potential of becoming a real bomb! Experiments have shown they can be exactly that.

    As the internal resistance has gone down, construction has become much more critical and exacting. Just a spec of foreign material can cause a catastrophic short and too much current or voltage can warp electrodes to the point where clearances become dangerous. With each advancement the batteries have become more dangerous and require more time before they become ready for prime time…if ever
    Will large Li-Ion battery construction ever reach the point the batteries are ever truly safe for aviation? Practical electric powered flight appears to depend on it.

  8. Kayak Jack says:

    Mr. Palmerlee sez: ” in the next 10 to 20 years because within that time, you will be seeing a set of neat, quiet, much cheaper to operate and more reliable light aircraft on the market – all powered entirely by electric. There will be gridlock reducing electric sky taxis operating in an autonomous mode for safety and collision avoidance. ”

    You may be correct – and I’d like to see it – but I certainly wouldn’t bet on it. Pundits have been saying this stuff since the 50′s. Not happening yet, and maybe won’t. And, if of traffic (with all those bad drivers) weren’t contained on a road – but roaming free in the air! No electronic traffic avoidance system can overcome the stupidity of a bad driver.

    Knowledge has its limits – but ignorance knows no bounds.

  9. DEL says:

    Can anyone explain to me what is a battery thermal runaway and why is it more critical in batteries with lower internal resistance?
    (Basic physics: [internal thermal power] = [current squared] x [internal resistance].)

  10. johnbpatson says:

    My money is on software problems for the charging controller.
    Test flight aircraft have their software continually updated and tweaked, hiding problems but in the real world no one bothers.
    So when the line aircraft get dirty and wet ground unit plugs thumped into them, all the little error and overwrite codes float to the surface and it is a battery barbeque.
    The rush to lithium means that there soon might not be any Ni-Cad batteries anyway.
    Saft is desperately trying to sell the last factory it has making them, with no line of serious buyers lining up outside their door.
    Only the military uses them in any number now, (for GPS units mainly) and in the nature of the military have discovered warehouses full, and say they do not need to buy any more.

  11. Wayne Boyd says:

    The Light Sport machine I fly (Aeronca 7-AC) requires no battery.

    • Gary says:

      Well, very nice about no electrics.. But the fact is you (I hope) are carrying a portable radio, and a cell phone? Which by the latter are generally powered by Li batteries… There are few places to fly now without Mode C and a radio.

      That said I read with interest this story on Li battery’s, as we just installed one on a experimental ’37 J3 Cub. wiring was a little challenging as no provisions for the flow of electron’s were made for this plane, save for inside those ancient magnetos!

      The battery weighs in at less than 3 pounds and provides 17Ah of current, with more than sufficient current to start the C-85 engine installed.– Yes, a light-weight modern starter too on a J3! And provide power for the radio, and transponder, as well as GPS.

      This sort of battery technology will have I am sure a few bumps in the road (air), but change is good!

      • Walt says:

        Gary, re. “few places to fly now without a Mode C”, take a map of the United States and color in the areas where mode C is required. What’s left? About 96% of America, the best parts, and they’re perfect for your J3 Cub.

  12. DEL says:

    Seeing that poor Mac is under attack from all sides, I get the urge to come to his defense — that’s a weakness of mine.

    Mac may not have been umbilically connected to the sport aviation womb, he may not have breast-fed on an E-AB teat, yet he’s a great aviation writer and I find myself reading almost everything he writes on Left Seat.

    But being a great writer is not reason enough. What motivates me is the wider horizon his writings offer. They let me see a world my activities are a very small part of. I better appreciate what I’m doing in the context of what others are doing. They also allow me a measure of humility, a scale by which to appreciate how great a pilot I am, lest vanity might take over.

    Incidentally, at the annual AirVenture event, doesn’t the EAA show all kinds of aircraft — airliners, military freighters, combat aircraft, warbirds, etc. — not just sport and experimental aircraft? Well, there you are.

    • Bob says:

      Not only do they show all kinds of aircraft — airliners, military freighters, combat aircraft, warbirds, etc, but cars too! And I don’t hear people complaining about that even though the only connection I can draw between them and experimental aircraft is the fact that a big car guy crashed his jet at the EAA convention one year!

    • DEL says:

      Having said that, it would be nice if EAA introduced, in addition to Left Seat, a blog dedicated to sport, ultralight and E-AB aviation. And it would be nice if that blog had the same quality of writing and information as that of Left Seat.

      But it’s unfair to expect Mac to author it, or to require him to transform himself into the right person to do it. If you need an eye doctor you don’t go to an ear specialist, just because he has free parking, and demand of him to learn ophthalmology.

      Any suggestions who that writer may be? Any volunteers? No? Then forever hold your peace.

  13. John Ewald says:

    In support of Mac: Over the last 20 years I have only been an EAA member for the years I went to Oshkosh. Since Mac moved over from “Flying” I have never let my EAA membership drop, ultimately meaning more dollars going to the EAA. And I will probably never build an airplane.

  14. Gilbert Pierce says:

    I see we are back on the Flying Magazine articles. Mac, get with the EXPERIMENTAL AIRCRAFT PROGRAM. Visit some local chapters and ask what is important to us.
    I don’t believe the majority of us want our valuable Sport Avaition pages taken up with articles that are current in the WALL STREET JOURNAl today or Flying Mag tomorrow.

  15. Mac says:

    EAA does have a publication dedicated entirely to E-AB. It’s the Experimenter and it’s free to any member. Go to, click on the “multimedia” tab, then click on newsletters and you will see the Experimenter. You can subscribe and have the online magazine sent to your mailbox each month, or click on the individual issue. Experimenter is edited by Mary Jones, longtime EAA magazine editor. The Experimenter is an actual magazine, not a newsletter, complete with photos, articles, departments and so on.
    If all you want to read about is E-AB, the Experimenter is for you.
    Mac Mc

    • David says:

      Mac, you’re absolutely right, Experimenter is mainly focused on E-AB, and it is a great magazine (though I wish it was available in good old fashion print) and available. I think some of us feel that when we see the EAA on any information source, we are still thinking it is somehow related to what we signed up for on this journey, aircraft within our reach that we can build and fly, be it experimental, light sport, or vintage.

      EAA has several magazines and specific groups, such as Sport Pilots, Homebuilders, Warbirds, etc, but EAA is still our banner, and until I see Commercial Aircraft or Business Jets listed as one of those groups, I would prefer to read about what the EAA initially represented. If EAA decides to continue to publish more articles geared more to GA and commercial aircraft, perhaps it might be best if another segment of EAA be created called Commercial and Jet Flight. That way, the rest of us can perhaps again enjoy the great articles and information that were in the Sport Aviation magazine that dealt with what a lot of us enjoyed; not just building an aircraft, but flying it, not merely monitoring instruments until our next refueling.

    • Ken says:

      So it seem E-AB, once the focus of EAA, has been demoted and exiled to some www backwater. I for one would prefer the tables be switched. Return of EAA to experimental, amateur built focus. If EAA feels it necessary to cater to all of aviation (despite other orgs who already do that quite well) then put THEM on the back burner.

      • Tom says:

        The ugly truth is that most homebuilders aren’t experimenting AT ALL. They’re simply copying somebody else’s experiment, or worse yet, merely ASSEMBLING somebody else’s experiment from a box of parts they glue, epoxy, or rivet together.

        The only difference between most homebuilders and the unionized men and women on the assembly floors in Everett, WA is that the paid assemblers do a more consistent job.

        In other words, Mr. RV Assembler, you are NOT an experimenter. That title belongs to those with names like Wright, Coanda, Sperry, Grumman, Loughead, Johnson, Rutan, and Sinnett (chief engineer of the 787 project for Boeing).

        Do something NEW for once–something really interesting–and you’ll join that proud list of names. When you do, I’d be happy to read about it here, at the website of the EXPERIMENTAL Aircraft Association.

  16. Hod says:

    Mac, I know that you and Lane love aviation. Please go back and read some of the past Sport Aviation magazines during the time Jack Cox was the editor. Change is always hard for most folks, but the reality is that many members of EAA did not (and do not) want another warmed-over version of Flying Magazine. It was not hyperbole when Burt Rutan wrote on the passing of Jack Cox, that he said “We have lost the greatest sport aviation writer of our time.” The key phrase Burt used was “sport aviation”. This is not a slam on your writing about batteries or Boeing. Many of the folks here who are critical of your writing are actually critical of your focus. That includes me. Sport Aviation is not what you define, it is what EAA members define. Jack Cox got it, and more importantly, he wrote about it, and published a magazine dedicated to sport aviation. You and Lane can do the same if you so choose.

    • Sean says:

      I fly personal aircraft, but I don’t always get to fly them for work. When I need to go somewhere far, it’s usually on Boeing or Airbus metal. It’s all aviation, and there’s precious little enough writing about the subject that we can afford to be strict about what gets written in any given month. I’ve faith we’ll get some good experimental writing in here too, but as one of the other posters writes, experimental batteries are still relevant to us.

      When Mac starts complaining about the in flight entertainment on the 16 hr ride to Delhi or the performance of a 50k glass panel in a million dollar airplane, I’ll worry. Until then, I can’t be picky if he writes about topics that are not exclusively about bending metal and rigging control lines (although I do love to read about them).

      • Hod says:

        As you say, “there’s precious little enough writing…”. Mac’s in charge of that. There is a wealth of information in sport aviation that Mac and Lane could write about – if they choose. It wasn’t a problem for Jack Cox to find sport aviation issues to write about. I’ve spent many hours going back and forth across the Pacific and Atlantic in big iron, both in and out of the cockpit. The point again, is focus. I love all forms of aviation. EAA’s focus is on sport aviation (or it used to be). Mac doesn’t seem to even want to make the effort. This article is a perfect example of how Mac could have mentioned Boeing and batteries and then written specifically about batteries and their impact on sport aviation. Instead, he had to relate it to a Cessna jet (which I also enjoy flying in). No problem with that except that this venue is probably not the most conducive to a “warmed-over” version of Flying Magazine. Rod Hightower did not seem to get EAA, and so far, neither does Mac or Lane.

        • Ken says:

          Hod, you have stated the issue perfectly. The thing is, everybody I know feels the same way. It makes me wonder where the pressure to turn EAA into just another general aviation forum comes from. Not from the grassroots, of that I am certain.

          • DEL says:

            Don’t you think all those complaints, about the course taken by EAA and Sport Aviation, should be leveled at EAA leadership and Sport Aviation editorial board rather than be deposited in Mac’s blog?

          • Bud Skriba says:

            Hod and Ken
            The Evolutionary/genealogical hierarchy of aviation (based on dollars) is: MILITARY> Commercial > General > Private > Sport, and finally Experimental (although the History Channel would have you believe otherwise). Boeing has 10 years of airplane manufacturing orders and 20 years of profitability at stake with the grounding of the 787.
            Boeing gave funds to the University of Madrid folks who gave a talk at EAA, years ago, about a hydrogen fueled, electric powered aircraft and the problems to get it in the air (the core issue was thermal management even back then)… aka BATTERIES were also needed to provide enough additional power for their experimental conversion/design to take-off (small fuel cells they used could not do it other than maintain flight speed at altitude). Also, in 2001, a company, (FASTec), exhibited at EAA their scheme to build a fuel cell driven aircraft research project. That too, went nowhere fast. Electric power in aircraft is the future; we just have to get the thermal engineering issues properly understood, after we first solve the cost/reliability/power-levels/weight issues done for aircraft. That kind of money is NOT to be found at EAA, but rather deep in the bowels of DOD’s UAVs and drone/spycraft.
            The point is: now that old-man Experimentalist Poberezny is no longer running things, Hightower must deal with the 21st century “Aeronautical Clift”… with the world economy being so bad that ordinary folks no longer have the cash anymore to invent, build, test-fly radical design concepts like electric powered VTOLs or aircraft that could fly around the world based on solar-cells on top of their wings… all which, to be sure, are totally irrelevant to COMMERCIAL aviation, and way below the performance levels needed for “GENERAL AVIATION” and certainly out of the typical price ranges of new “PRIVATE AVIATION”…
            So EAA is desperately looking for a new “reason for being”… since crashing WW2 “Warbirds” in July no longer appeals to kids who live now on I-phones and I-pods and are obsessed with laser-zapping zombie monsters from outer-space at the local Cineplex.
            YES, serious experimentation and serious “sport flying” does NOT generate enough cash, and hence interest, to keep the July EAA event a viable business possibility (even the paper-based “magazines” do not make enough money themselves to pay top-dollar for top-of-the-line editorial contributors.)
            For experimenters and home builders, I would predict that some other venue has to develop to serve their learning and sharing needs. Selling Cessna and Honda Jets in Oshkosh in July is a lot more profitable to keep what is left of EAA events flying. The future of what used to be EAA events/workshops is probably some better form of social/technical networking via Internet… My humble attempt at that for VTOL electrics and radically (hydrogen) fueled aircraft is struggling to fly at: …. Enjoy the invitation to join.
            AND re: batteries in planes… the real problem with very light weight (the prime reason it must stay in the 787) high power Lithium is a thermal management issue. That was seen in laptops (once consumers started to use them for streaming 2-hrs. of high-def movies instead of doing spread-sheets), and in GTM’s VOLT which needs a lot of added cooling of the deeply buried battery compartment when driving at high speed in an un-air-conditioned hot summer.
            My engineering degree says that the FAA 787 grounding results will eventually show that the compartment holding the batteries was NOT providing sufficient cooling air In-flight…
            At altitude, the lower density air probably does not have the mass sufficient to cool a battery concept that has an inherent “electrochemical thermal runaway” issue under high demand. This kind of battery is actually a reversible electroplating of the dangerous METAL called lithium (in the presence of water vapor and oxygen it itself is explosive). The magic is in the flammable organic electrically-conductive electrolyte, which has not been invented properly yet (except perhaps recently at Argonne Nat. Lab).
            Testing of every production battery just before shipment to Boeing was probably NOT done properly by the Japanese supplier GS Yuasa, namely: under demanding conditions of full power consumption simulated at 30K ft. altitude. NO… that is NOT a design error by Boeing which makes the breakthrough plastic airplane, but rather an issue of having to deal with “Japan Inc.” being prime contract suppliers for the 787 that had to be agreed-to by Boeing management to get JAL/ANA etc. carriers to give a BIG order for the 787 sufficient to allow Boeing to commit to a strategy of “high volume” and “high speed” production concepts for a radical structural design. Boeing bit off more than their own Unionized Engineers could chew on (and a strike was likely unless most of the profits on this plane will go to the Unions). It is time to bring home the total manufacture of the 787 to the land of Lincoln (or maybe Texas: a union-free state).

  17. SkyGuy says:

    - Once again off taget…EAA is about light aircrsft.
    - The Boeing 787 uses a very high systems (both electical + hydroulic)…..thus both will be probalamatic.

  18. Phil says:

    Mac, THANK YOU for writing about the cutting edge, where true experimenters have always been.

  19. skip says:

    Although it might not be immediately obvious from the column, the use of lithium batteries in aircraft is relevant to, and a topic of debate in, experimental aircraft and home builder communities, as this thread at the biplane forum demonstrates:

  20. David says:

    Having been thoroughly involved in the building of my experimental Lancair propjet, I feel that I am a true member of the EAA. As such, I find Mac’s column very timely and interesting about batteries which are very important to my experimental turbine and hold the future of experimental aircraft. Perhaps to be politically correct Mac could have mentioned the obvious connection to the future of experimental aviation but……….keep up the good work Mac!

  21. Michael Rosing says:

    Looks like Cessna is planning on bringing back lithium batteries, according to this Flight Global report:

  22. Dan says:

    Li-Ion has been around a while and frankly the tech is still not there for this application. The model aviation community has lived through the Li-Ion fiasco and advanced to the Li-Po, Li-Fe and A123 worlds in the past 10 years. Thats right, pre-iPad and iPhone. As a bleeding edge user of these batteries I show them great respect and caution while charging them. These batteries demand respect as Boeing now knows. Even with that caution I have had fires…at a far smaller scale. (3200mAH and 2500mAH batteries)

    Boeing needs to fall back and take a weight hit for heavier batteries. Its going to require new charging and monitoring circuits, but the right design should be able to be configured to work with what they have. (i.e. the whole system should not require changeout)
    I would target either A123 or Li-Fe to minimize fire risk and dump the Li-Ion idea. (it was a poor decision from the beginning…with the scale of batteries they need it was a matter of WHEN, not IF, this was going to happen).

    As for Cessna… the first accident we all know is going to happen will be a biggie…especially after they spoke up..

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