Monday, 9 March 2015

Solar plane completes maiden leg of record attempt

A solar-powered plane just completed the first leg of a trip that will take it around the world—a 250-mile stint from Abu Dhabi to Oman that took about 12 hours. If completed, the Solar Impulse 2 would be the first solar-powered plane to circumnavigate the globe.

The Impulse 2 spans a whopping 23 -feet from wing to wing—wider than a 747 jetliner—and 17,000 solar cells line the top of the plane. It's also a flight nerd’s dream, logging up-to-the-minute flight data like airspeed, elevation, rudder movements, location tracking, and solar power consumption. Plus, there's a window to chat with the Solar Impulse mission control.

The plane will make 12 pit stops along its five-month journey for maintenance and to spread the clean-tech message of the project, which started in 2003 and is privately financed. Among the public and private groups providing support to the plane's development are Omega SA, Toyota, and the European Space Agency (ESA). Solar Impulse 2 is the second iteration of the plane—the first debuted in 2009.

Two notable pilots will guide the plane along its journey: entrepreneur and former air force pilot André Borschberg, made the first journey alone, and celebrated adventurer Bertrand Piccard—who performed the first nonstop circumnavigation by balloon in 1999—will join him later. Unlike the balloon flight, the Solar Impulse 2 isn’t attempting to do it all in one go, not least because it can’t store enough solar energy to power it around the globe.

Circumnavigation has always captured the human imagination, from Magellan to the 1976 Rutan Voyager, which completed the first nonstop flight around the world. If all goes well, the Impulse 2 will be the first completely renewable plane to make the trip—and as solar and battery tech continues to improve, the days until we have a "perpetual aircraft" entirely powered by the sun are numbered. Follow the project's progress here.

[via The BBC]