Solar Airplanes

Topics: Aircraft, Photovoltaics, Electric aircraft Pages: 3 (1091 words) Published: April 9, 2013

Throughout the centuries, scientists have found innovative ways to harness the power of the sun- from magnifying glasses to steam engines. Amid the push to find domestic energy sources that are less polluting than fossil fuel, solar energy stands out as the alternative source with the most potential. Assisted by technological innovations, two Swiss gentlemen have built a solar aircraft which promises a new generation of flight without burning an ounce of fuel.

The plane is called Solar Impulse and is powered entirely by the sun [1]. The Solar Impulse is not the only solar airplane ever designed, but it certainly is the most ambitious. None of its predecessors has ever managed to fly right through the night with a pilot on board. With the wingspan of a jumbo jet and a scooter-sized engine, the Solar Impulse is one of a kind [2]. Thousands of solar cells on its wings transmit enough energy to the batteries to keep it soaring in the sky from sunset till sunrise. The 63 meter wide, 1,600 kilogram plane is already a record breaker, staying in the air for 26 unbroken hours in 2010 [3].

The idea of Solar Impulse came from Bertrand Piccard, the first man to travel non-stop around the world in a balloon. Together with his partner Andre Borschberg, a Swiss businessman, Piccard initiated the dream project in 2003. The two gentlemen raised $120 million from corporate sponsors and investors. By 2009, they had assembled a multi-disciplinary team of 50 specialists from six countries, assisted by about 100 outside advisers [4]. In the same year a test pilot flew the plane for the first time. It managed to rise only three feet off the ground and stayed airborne for just 28 seconds [5]. After a year of extensive modifications and test flights, the Solar Impulse completed its first manned flight completely powered by solar energy. The aircraft had its first high flight on 7 April 2010...
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