Solar impulse a bright idea for aviation

Business Jet Traveler » October 2009
Thursday, October 1, 2009 - 5:00am

While some are turning to biofuels as the energy source to keep future wings aloft, the team behind the newly unveiled Solar Impulse believes it can use sunlight to power their airplane-day and night. The unusual craft features solar-panel-covered wings as wide as those on a Boeing 747, but it weighs only as much as a typical car.

The team, led by Dr. Bertrand Piccard (co-record-holder for the first nonstop round-the-world balloon flight), has worked for six years to design and build the lightweight airplane, a design it hopes can spark interest in renewable fuel sources. During the day, power from 12,000 solar cells not only will run the aircraft's four 10-horsepower electric motors but also charge its batteries, which will provide power at night.

First flight of the Solar Impulse is expected before the end of the year in Switzerland, with a day/night flight to follow in 2010. Eventually, a follow-on model will tackle the challenge of global circumnavigation.  

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“When you get into the larger aircraft it becomes like a hotel, with dozens of staff supporting the plane based in a galley area down below. You have very comprehensive cooking facilities, and on larger aircraft we have looked at theatres, with spiral staircases and a Steinway grand piano. The limitations for what you can put inside a plane are pretty much the limits of physics, and even money cannot always overcome that. Even so, people are still always trying to push [the limits]. ”

-Howard Guy of Design Q, a UK-based consultancy