Solar-Powered Flight!

Interesting Engineering

During the last 15 years the solar powered vehicles were improved a lot. Nowadays we see many projects for solar-powered-anything, starting from cell phone charging devices, passing through many solar-powered cars and bikes, and ending with the PlanetSolar's boat which sailed around the world using energy from the Sun only. But now, the solar impulse may lift a human on 8500 m above the surface... literally.

The project is called Solar Impulse and was launched and driven by Bertrand Piccard (psychiatrist, and the man who made the world's first non-stop round-the-world balloon flight) and André Borschberg (engineer and graduate in management science, a fighter pilot and a professional airplane, a helicopter pilot too). Together with them work also 30 engineers, 25 technicians and 22 mission controllers, supported financially and technologically by more than a hundred partners and advisers.

Solar Impulse HB-SIA prototype airplane attends his first flight over Payerne[Image Source: Solar Impulse]

The first plane built by these people was Solar Impulse HB-SIA. His purpose was to make the first whole day-and-night flight without fuel, a task completed successfully in July 2010. The plane has very big wingspan ("equal to that of an Airbus A340", according to the official site) of 63.40m and weighs as an average car - 1.6 tons. The plane is propelled by 4 brushless electric motors with total power of 40 hp (10 hp each). The power for them comes from 11 628 monocrystalline silicon solar cells (10 748 on the wing and another 880 on the tail). This machine achieved five world records: 1. Absolute height: 9235 m (30300 ft); 2. Height gain: 8744 m (28690 ft); 3. Duration: 26 hours, 10 minutes, 19 seconds; 4.Free Distance along a course: 1116 km (693.5 miles); 5.  Straight distance, pre-declared waypoints: 1099.3 km (683 miles).