Solar flight is no pie in the sky

Solar flight is no pie in the sky

18th January 2010, Comments 0 comments

Flying around the world on solar power. That's the goal of the Solar Impulse Project. The man behind the project, Bertrand Piccard talks about his team's successful first step forward.

The Solar Impulse aircraft made its maiden flight on in December at Dubendorf Airfield in Switzerland and is being hailed as a significant advance in aviation technology.

The plane is made of a carbon fiber composite making it ultra-lightweight. It was designed to fly long distances on very little power.

And if the Solar Impulse Project is a success, the vehicle will run entirely on solar power, producing no CO-2 output.

Maiden flight

The Solar Impulse's first flight was a short one. The aircraft reached take-off  speed and flew one meter above the ground for a mere 30 seconds.

The plane was not fitted with the solar panels, but ran instead on batteries which supplied electricity to the four motors. Nevertheless, the test flight was called a success.

The Solar Impulse can fly. In the next phase of testing, the plane's wing and stabalizer will be fitted with over 11,000 solar power cells, making it carbon-neutral.

Swiss aviator Bertrand Piccard is the driving force behind the Solar Impulse Project. He sees the project as a great human adventure:

"It's a completely new flight domain. It's an airplane that is big like an Airbus 340. It is light as a car and the amount of energy it uses to fly is equivalent to a motorcycle. So everything is new. Everything is revolutionary."

Showcasing achievement

The Solar Impulse Project will faces major challenges in the next stages of development.

The plan is for the solar power cells to run the plane's engines during the day, while storing excess energy in batteries.

Those batteries will then be used to power the plane through the night. But this is all still theory.

Now that the first flight has been completed, Solar Impulse has been disassembled and moved to the Payerne  airforce field in western Switzerland, where the solar panels will be installed.

Sometime next year, the aircraft will take its first solar flight.

From left: Swiss scientist-adventurer and pilot Bertrand Piccard, test pilot Markus Scherdel and Solar Impulse chief executive officer Andre Borschberg celebrate in front of an HB-SIA prototype aircraft, called "Solar Impulse," after it flew for the first time on 3 December 2009 at Duebendorf airport near Zurich

Piccard says the aircraft may never have commericial applications but is still a worthwhile venture:

"The goal for us is not commercial airliners that are going to use solar cell to transport 200 passengers, because I believe that, right now, it is still impossible... Our goal is, much more, to show what we can achieve with new technologies in terms of energy savings and renewable energy."

Davion Ford
Radio Netherlands



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