Solar Impulse in takeoff (via Solar Impulse)
A Swiss-made solar powered aircraft has recently completed the initial part of the world’s first intercontinental flight powered by nothing but the sun. The Solar Impulse HB-SIA plane came about as a feasibility study of flight without conventional fuel by pilots Bertrand Piccard (no relation to Star Trek’s Jean-Luc) and Andre Borschberg back in 2003 after Piccard successfully completed a balloon flight around the world. That flight was dependent on liquid propane to keep the balloon aloft, which alarmed Piccard after completing the journey with very little of the fuel left.
It was then that he decided his next flight around the world would be without fuel and the concept of Solar Impulse was born. The plane was designed using 12,000 photovoltaic cells on the craft’s wings, which harness the sun’s energy and stores it in rechargeable polymer lithium battery consisting of 70 accumulators. The collected energy powers the planes 4 brushless electric motors, which have a maximum output of only 10 HP each, giving Solar Impulse a modest cruising speed of a little over 43 mph! Starting in Payerne, Switzerland, Piccard made it through the first leg of the trip in landing in Madrid (for three days of rest) with a final destination in Morocco.
Ultimately the team is working towards completing an around the world flight starting in 2014 using an updated version of the Solar Impulse plane (Solar Impulse HB-SIB) that features a more spacious cockpit with a reclining seat designed for longer flights. The revision will also feature cable insulation for flying in adverse weather as well as system redundancy in case of emergencies (Piccard is wearing a parachute for this trip ‘just in case’ he encounters catastrophic failure).