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June 12, 2009



New World Record!



The History of a Challenge


The SkySpark challenge started matching the project developments of the DigiSky company and of the group of engineers of the Department of Aeronautical and Spatial Engineering of the Polytechnic in Turin (DIASP), coordinated by the Prof. Paolo Maggiore.

DigiSky is a startup company specialized in R&D innovative technology for aeronautical applications, born from the passion of the two partners Maurizio Cheli and Paolo Pari who decided to turn into business in the lightweight aircraft category the experience matured in many years. The opportunity offered by the new regulation to also use innovative technologies without qualification of the general aviation opens new interesting research areas.

The new DigiSky R&D headquarter, set up early 2007, is located within the Turin Polytechnics University I3P center for innovative companies. DigiSky has been selected by an evaluation committee to be part of this companies/university development programme, giving the opportunity to accelerate new projects. Parallelly to the planning and production of a new EFIS system (Electronic Flight Information System) installed on lightweight aircraft with both fixed and rotating wings, the partners structured an innovative service of qualification and testing of equipments which needed also the inflight experimentation, using some of their own aircrafts. This service has been then supplied to private and public corporate bodies receiving a great interest from the DIASP (Department of Space Engineering) research group who experimented for now some years aerospace applications of hydrogen fuel cells. Prof. Paolo Maggiore (backed by searchers Raffaella Gerboni, Paolo Bois, Sergio Pullara, Massimo Bruno and Michele Cotza and supported by Environment Park) started the research activities in order to conceive and experiment innovative units capable to generate electricity, with high output, designed to be used on board small and middle size aircrafts, allowing a reduction of polluting emissions and noises.

The programme has benefited of Ricerca Scientifica 2004 financing support from the Piedmont Region allowing the construction of two test benches. The opportunity to test the fuel cells during an experimental flight at the final stage of the project has given to the DIASP the possibility to order to Digisky a first campaign on aircraft with qualification in different flight conditions. The test programme has been implemented during 2007 with flight tests with on board PEM type fuel cells with a power of 100 W and 800 W at a maximum altitude of 5000 m. After this first positive phase, taking benefit of a new financing support linked to the SISA-COREP project, an APU generator able to supply the energy to the on-board DC-bus (from the switch on of the propeller) was engineered for the Pelican GS aircraft. It was the very first experiment of this type in Italy. The experiment and the final results were monitored by the media.

The DIASP research programme continued, planning up to 60 kw powered fuel cells tests. It became necessary to prepare test bench in order to qualify such fuel cells. This is the stage where Maurizio Cheli proposed the idea to use, always on the class of aircraft ULM, the power generated by fuel cells for electric propeller energized in a position to ensure the traction needed for the flight. In this context was developed a feasibility study to assess the compatibility of equipment with the capacity of an airplane class ULM and the power required for a safe takeoff. The feasibility study gave positive outcome, however, highlighting the high cost of purchasing equipment and special airplane for the role of platform technology: the group envisaged to set up a project with the formula of "challenge", acquiring the resources needed through sponsorship. It became indispensable to form a team setting objectives and timing of the challenge.

The idea of the project was submitted to the Chancellor of the Polytechnic University who welcomed it with enthusiasm by proposing the establishment of an interdepartmental framework agreement involving not only the DIASP but also the departments of electrical, computer / automatic production systems. The researcher in the Department of Electrical Engineering (DELET), Paolo Guglielmi, already involved with his team in projects for the development of electrical ground vehicle, proposed to design an innovative electric generator capable of supplying a specific power of over 2kW/kg.

While the agreement between DigiSky and the Polytechnic was approved, Alberto Sola, chairman of SICME Motors, enthusiastically confirmed to be the first sponsor of the challenge, taking on the commitment to implement the electric engine designed by the DELET.

To develop the communication plan and marketing DigiSky asked Aircraft Design Studio, one of the most quoted design company, specialized exclusively in aviation, to study the logo, the website and the framework of the aircraft.

After a careful evaluation of lightweight aircraft available on the market, the Pioneer 300 was identified as the best solution. Alpi Aviation, a leader in the lightweight aircraft, was then contacted and asked to join the team: the company owner confirmed his decision to supply an special airplane.

In March 2007, thanks to the involvement of Techne (a company specialized in communication), the team set out in detail the goal of the challenge by identifying the type of required sponsors.

The first response was given by Reale Mutua Assicurazioni that signed an agreement for sponsorship by ensuring both a financial contribution and insurance of all operations on the ground and in flight.

In 2008, the Board of Environment Park, informed of the project, proposed to include DigiSky into development projects linked to hydrogen and fuel cells. DigiSky as partner in the project HySyVision allowed a further contribution to the development of electronic control system of hydrogen fuel cell that was completed in June of the following year.

In December '08 Maurizio Cheli considered mature the whole program of the challenge, convened a press conference to present the project and collect more resources.

The conference was set for January 28, 2009.


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A Challenge by: DigiSky Srl - Italy - P.I./C.F. 09535510011