Solar Impulse, the first solar powered plane has been unveiled in Switzerland. With a wingspan of a Boeing 747 but lighter than a small car, the plan could fly around the world powered entirely by the sun. Even if it’s still in the project phase and possible passengers will need some convincing before boarding it, the Solar Impulse plane can stay in the air in areas where enough sunlight is available.
The most brave pilots in the world, Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg will try their luck in a round-the-world trip by 2012 to prove the viability of the airplane. It seems that at this moment there is still some work to do first: “Yesterday it was a dream, today it is an airplane, tomorrow it will be an ambassador of renewable energies.”
With the use of 12,000 solar cells mounted on the wings, rechargeable lithium batteries and four electric motors that can provide only 40 horsepower, the plane can take off at 22mph, accelerating to around 44mph at higher altitudes. The Solar Impulse is part of a wider £70 million project.
Mr. Piccard already had an round-the-globe adventure in 1999 when he co-piloted a balloon in a nonstop trip. The plane will have to be more secure an stops will be required in order for the pilots to switch and stretch after long periods in the small cockpit. The first test flight will be later this year and a complete night voyage is planned for 2010. Solar Impulse has at the moment one huge defect: it cannot fly in bad weather because the 400kg batteries won’t be able to recharge by daylight as they are needed for the night flight: “We’ll certainly avoid stormy situations. We’ll avoid rain as well, because you cannot collect energy in this weather. So the challenge for the team will be to find a path that is favorable“, said Mr Borschberg.
The Solar Impulse plane should be a good example to all inventors and manufacturers of machines and appliances that could be used with clean energy sources. Mr Piccard said: “If an aircraft is able to fly day and night without fuel, propelled solely by solar energy let no one come and claim that it is impossible to do the same thing for motor vehicles, heating and air conditioning systems and computers.” And he is right, indeed.