America’s Car Museum in Tacoma is a tribute to automobiles of all sorts. While the internal combustion engine is dominant throughout the museum, they do have a section that is focused on electric vehicles. This includes the sort of car you might expect to see and some that are a touch more exotic. The research/competition cars are strange looking things. Aerodynamics dominate in vehicles that are clearly aimed at maximizing efficiency while not worrying about things like handling or utility. Having a whole roof section of solar panels is impressive.
Not all of the vehicles are that extreme though. Others are the sort of thing you are used to seeing on the road. Some of the original electric road cars (including those from the Victorian era) are there and also some concept demonstration vehicles that are likely to lead to something in production before too long. These already look just like any other car on the road today.
Snoqualmie Falls may be impressive but they would be even more so if there weren’t a diversion of a lot of the water. There are two hydroelectric power stations at the Falls. The original station is built into the Falls themselves. Water is taken off at one side and drops down to some turbines before being ejected alongside the base of the falls. The exiting water can be seen from above.
The second station was built a few years later and has been expanded since. Water is ducted around the Falls to a holding pond where it then enters some pipes that run it down the side of the hill to a turbine hall. The hall has been replaced and expanded relatively recently but the style has been kept in keeping with the original. The pipes also look like they have been replaced because they looked quite new. As we walked across them, it was hard to imagine just how much power was flowing within.
Solar Impulse was on the ground at Moffett for over a week while they waited for a good weather window for the next leg to Phoenix. They kindly invited me to go and have a look around in the more relaxed time compared to the arrival! The hangar was located on the apron at Moffett and they weren’t able to have a secure way to have visitors so, sadly, they could not have everything open to the public.
The hangar itself was pretty hot. It was white so reflective but it still warmed up quickly in the sun. The batteries were the only part of the aircraft for which this was a problem so they were permanently connected to air conditioning packs that kept them at the required temperature. I was a touch jealous.
The aircraft fitted snugly into the hangar given that it was custom designed. The air data boom had to be folded out of the way thought. The maintenance team were pretty busy checking out systems ready for the next leg whenever it would occur. Meanwhile, media attention was high and I wasn’t the only one there. A local TV crew were conducting interviews with Bertrand. When they had finished, he was happy to chat for a while.
The team were very generous with time and access but were very nervous about touching the aircraft itself. I wasn’t about to upset them so managed to get what I needed without causing any trouble.
The round the world trip of Solar Impulse, the solar powered aircraft conceived of by Bertrand Piccard and built/flown by him and Andre Borschberg, resumed its journey after an enforced stay in Hawaii while they dealt with some overheating issues with the batteries. By the time the batteries were fixed, it was too late in the year to continue. The aircraft charges its batteries during the day and uses them at night. If the day is shorter and the night longer, the flight is not sustainable. The arrival of spring meant they could resume the trip.
Originally the leg from Hawaii to the continental US was supposed to go to Phoenix. The break meant they came up with a revised route which included a stop in the Bay Area at Moffett Field in Mountain View. This meant I could cover it for Global Aviation Resource. There are two articles I prepared which you can see here and here.
The arrival was scheduled for about midnight. Late landings and early departures are scheduled to provide the calmest conditions. The very high aspect ratio, lightweight airframe is sensitive to turbulence. It also is easier to schedule a very slow aircraft in to the air traffic patterns during the night. While the time moved around a bit, it ended up being pretty much as expected. This brought the issue of how to shoot an aircraft at midnight.
I took a second shooter with me in the person of Hayman Tam. I wanted stills and video for the story and can’t get both at once so we worked on it together. He would focus on stills and I would get video. I would also get some stills too. The plane is sufficiently slow that you can get both for most situations apart from the landing itself. It didn’t hurt that Hayman had just taken delivery of his D500 which should be a lot better in low light.
I was mounting my camera and the 100-400 on a gimbal mount to steady it for video. This was also helpful for getting stills. Not ideal but better than nothing. I was at the max ISO for my camera of 12,800 (excluding the extended ranges) with -1 to -2 in exposure compensation. Even so, it was still a very slow shutter speed. Some bursts of shooting were necessary to get a reasonable shot. Fortunately the aircraft has a lot of lights of its own otherwise there wouldn’t be much to see. It’s a shame my new bodies hadn’t arrived at the time as they might have been able to get better results. Even so, I was quite pleased with what I got considering that I was shooting in the darkest conditions I have ever tried for a plane.
The other day while I was sitting at my desk, I happened to look out of the window and across the river. (Under no circumstances should you conclude that I was spending a large amount of time staring out of the window. There is no evidence to support such allegations!)
As I looked across to Wacker Drive, I saw a FedEx delivery truck that looked very unusual. It had a very aerodynamic looking front end and didn’t look anything like their normal trucks. A while later, I googled FedEx and delivery trucks to see if anything came up and, sure enough, there w a feature on their website about a number of new trucks that they are running trials on, some of which are here in Chicago.
The trials are for new designs that are either light weight conventional designs or alternative propulsion designs. They are trying the different concepts out on different routes to see which ones are best suited to which routes rather than having a one size fits all approach. Apparently, we have some electric vehicles here in the city.
I didn’t think much more about it until a few days later when I was out in the Loop. As I came down a back street, a came across one of the new trucks. It certainly has a very modern look about it. The driver was not around so I had a bit of time to look around it. Apparently, there is not a door to the outside on the cab. It seems you have to go back through the truck. There were some quite jazzy looking electronic access controls so it has all the bells and whistles fitted.
It will be interesting to see how the trials go and whether these become a regular sight. Given how many miles FedEx puts in, they must have plenty of scope to save cash!