With what could have seismic effects on the future of not just aviation but all modes of transport, a solar-powered plane recently flew for an astonishing 26 hours, setting a record and raising the prospects of perpetual flight.
Solar Impulse, a single-seat aircraft, has 4 propeller engines and huge wings with solar panels to absorb and store energy from the sun, creating sufficient electricity during the day to keep the engines working all night through.
During its mammoth flight – the longest and highest ever achieved by solar power – the plane circled Switzerland at top speed of 75mph. The most hazardous part of the journey involved soaring over the Jura mountains to the wet of the Alps where the pilot, Andre Borschberg, had to cope with freezing temperatures, thermal winds and turbulence which he circumvented by soaring to almost 10,000ft. Landing was also tricky; spectators held their breath as Andre glided down the runway with members of the ground crew rushing to prevent the enormous wings from hitting the ground and overturning the plane.
Yet even after a whole day strapped inside his miniscule cockpit, Andre was jubilant – the test flight had emphatically proved that the amount of solar energy collected during the day could keep the Impulse airborne until the following dawn when the ‘regeneration’ process could begin all over again!
The project’s co-founder, Bertrand Piccard, was equally thrilled, greeting Andre with the words: “You land in a new era where people understand that with renewable energy you can do impossible things.”
Certainly, this amazing feat has obvious implications for the environment, and, although the project team doesn’t see solar technology replacing conventional fuel for some time, there are plans to fly another, lighter solar-powered plane across the Atlantic and, by 2012, attempt to travel around the globe.