Can solar planes really soar the sky?
Indeed! The idea of aircraft flight has been researched, tested, and launched throughout the years. Whether they will ever replace conventional airplanes is questionable; however, the mere proof that airplanes can remain functional in the air for over 20 hours is enough to promote continued innovation in energy-efficient solar technology and other renewable forms of energy.
Back in 2010, an amazing feat was accomplished in Switzerland – an astonishing, sleek-looking, solar-powered experimental airplane surpassed its 24-hour test flight. The airplane that had a 207-foot wingspan remained in the sky overnight after being successfully powered by solar energy collected during the day time.
The people involved in the organization of the flight stated that it was the longest and highest by a piloted solar-powered aircraft with a solo passenger/pilot named Andre Borschberg. The altitude reached approximately 28,000 feet above sea level and the traveling speed was maintained at 23 knots, or about 26 miles per hour but reached a maximum of 68 knots, or 78 miles per hour.
The aircraft, Solar Impulse, took off and landed at the same Payerne airfield, 30 miles southwest of the capital Bern totaling 26 hours and 9 minutes.
Can you guess how many solar panels were installed onto this amazing aircraft? A whopping 12,000! The grand number that kept the batteries charged for the duration of the nighttime flight.
“We achieved more than we wanted. Everybody is extremely happy,” Borschberg told reporters after landing.
Previous test flights have been made, but on a much smaller scale. The co-founder of the project, Bertrand Piccard, who is known for completing an around-the-world trip via hot air balloon said, “There is a before and after in terms of what people have to believe and understand about renewable energies,” adding that the flight was proof new technologies can help break society’s dependence on fossil fuels.
“I’ve been a pilot for 40 years now, but this flight has been the most incredible one of my flying career,” Mr. Borschberg said as he landed, according to a statement from the organizers of the project. “Just sitting there and watching the battery charge level rise and rise, thanks to the sun.” He added that he had flown the entire trip without using any fuel or causing pollution.
The incredible Solar Impulse is made of carbon fiber and is powered by four small electric motors, weighing in at 3,500 pounds. Although there was confidence in the aircrafts ability, the pilot, Borschberg, certainly didn’t leave his parachute at home. He endured freezing conditions at certain parts of the night, dodged low-level turbulence along with thermal winds, and landed smoothly and safely with the support of his team from below to make sure the wings would not lose control and hit the ground.
This project was planned for seven years. Now that it’s been completed and accomplished, the next goal is to cross the Atlantic prior to trying a round-the-world trip next year.
Amazing, isn’t it? I wouldn’t be surprised if, one-day, the general public might even be able to fly using solar flight.