On Friday, the Solar Impulse became the first aircraft of it's kind to complete a flight of more than 24 hours powered by renewably generated energy alone. In addition to being the first solar powered aircraft flown after dusk, it was also the longest and highest flight in the history of solar aviation. The flight lasted for a total for 26 hours and 9 minutes, reaching a maximum height of nearly 28,000 ft.
Pilot André Borschberg, CEO and co-founder of the Solar Impulse project remarked, “I have just flown more than 26 hours without using a drop of fuel and without causing any pollution!" The single seater plane, with a wingspan of an Airbus A340 (approx 207. ft), weighing just over 3500 lbs (about the size of a small car), is powered by four electric motors and propellers. Borschberg's success proved (at least theoretically) that a solar powered aircraft could stay aloft for more than 24 hours on batteries that charged during the day. While flying at night, the airplane used only the energy stored by the nearly 12,000 solar cells built into it's lightweight carbon-fiber wings.
The achievement has no doubt propelled renewable energy aviation projects globally. For Borschberg and his Swiss partner Betrand Piccard, best known for circumnavigating the globe in a hot air balloon in 1999, it is another step forward for the Solar Impulse project team.
At this stage and after seven years of testing and research, they have taken one step closer to developing an aircraft that can achieve perpetual flight. This plane, the Solar Impulse HB - SIA, is a prototype for what Borschberg and partner Betrand Piccard hope will be the first solar powered aircraft to successfully circle the globe, the Solar Impulse HB - SIB. They will begin construction on the next airplane in 2011 with plans to make their first solar powered trip around the globe in 2012.
Learn more about the Solar Impulse project.
[Originally posted to SustainableLifeMedia.com July 14, 2010]