Solar Impulse’s Solar Planes – The First Solar Powered Plane


Any time someone creates new technology, it’s often met with skepticism. So when we tell you they’ve built a solar powered plane that can fly, you might be thinking, “come on!”

Solar Impulse 2 (Si2) is the first solar powered airplane able to sustain flight at night with a pilot, and it’s already taken test flights in Europe and across the U.S. However, the company is ready to launch it on a global flight to illustrate its capabilities and demonstrate it can withstand that long of a flight, while also drawing attention to solar powered flight and its possibilities.

Solar Impulse’s Solar Planes

“Solar Impulse is the only airplane of perpetual endurance, able to fly day and night on solar power, without a drop of fuel,” the company says. Amazingly, it only weighs about the same as a standard automobile. Made of carbon fiber with a 72-meter wingspan — bigger than a Boeing 747 — the plane was built with 17,000 solar cells in the wings, which supply four electric motors with renewable solar energy. In daylight, the solar cells recharge lithium batteries, allowing the aircraft to fly at night.

Developed by Bertrand Piccard, Solar Impulse is partly a practical answer to energy concerns, but also a labor love to “place dreams and emotions back at the heart of scientific adventure.” An airplane powered by solar, without fuel, means exploring and innovating even more ideas sustained by renewable energy.

Solar Impulse’s Global Flight

Although Solar Impulse has been testing flights since 2010, its first night flight is what marked a historical moment for aviation. That night flight lasted over 26 hours, and the plane has taken longer flights since in preparation to circumnavigate the globe. For its round-the-world flight in early March, the plane will be taking off from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, and return in July, making stops in China, India, Myanmar, Oman, and U.S. cities like New York City and Phoenix.

Of course, there are still kinks this plane needs to work out. For example, even though it flies, its speed is very slow, only going up to 60 mph. The pilot has to fly in an unheated, unpressurized cabin, thus requiring special pilot training. And you can’t carry any passengers with you… yet. However, it’s extremely promising to see a solar powered airplane taking flight in the first place. Just a decade ago, this technology would have seemed impossible. Now, Piccard himself, along with André Borschberg, are poised to make aviation history once again.

What do you think of a solar powered plane? How long do you think it will take until planes like these become commercially viable? Tell us in the comments!



Image Credit via Matth1 under a Creative Commons license

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