Solar-Powered Ambitions

Dubendorf, in Switzerland, was the venue of the unveiling of the Solar Impulse, which took place on 26 June 2009. Bertrand Piccard had to wait until the 3rd of December that same year, however, to see his dream take to flight, with pilot Markus Scherdel in the cockpit. It was a big day for everyone involved in the Solar Impulse project. But the building of the plane and its test flight was merely a stepping stone for Piccard and for much bigger things to come, such as flying around the world in the Solar Impulse.

The Solar Impulse has been built with the same wingspan as the Airbus A340 (63 meters), and four gondolas, with lithium polymer batteries and a twin blade propeller with motors has been attached to the wings. All four engines are 10 HP electric motors, giving the Solar Impulse an average flying speed of 70 kilometers per hour. The maximum altitude for the solar powered aircraft is 8 500 meters and it has a takeoff speed of 35 kilometers an hour. Many might think that massive wing span would make this aircraft too heavy, but it weighs a mere 1 600 kilograms.

Promoting his venture at the World Future Energy Summit, which was hosted in Abu Dhabi, Piccard spoke about his pending adventure with great enthusiasm. He hopes that flying around the world in the Solar Impulse will promote renewable energy awareness, and pave the way to new ways being invented to produce alternative energy for motor vehicles, heating and computers. Sharing the flight duties with Andre Borschberg, the duo will attempt non-stop flight, only touching down to change pilots. This means that the Solar Impulse will travel day and night, for approximately 20 to 25 days to complete its mission. As flight testing and work is still underway to ensure that the Solar Impulse will be ready to perform its task, the world travel project is only scheduled for 2012 or 2013. Charles Lindbergh was the first man to attempt a non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean, and Piccard believes that recreating this epic flight using only solar power will be a wonderful promotion tool for alternative energy. Piccard was quoted saying: “People need solutions, not problems. So we have to demonstrate the solutions. We have to show that it’s possible to do great things.”