First Solar-powered night flight

In June 2009 an ITIC ezine alerted readers to the impending test flight of a solar-powered plane. Well, things have moved on since then.

One of the many issues facing such a plane was, what happens at night when there is no sun to power it along? The good news is that this barrier appears to have been overcome.

Solar Impulse, which has a wing span similar to an Airbus A340, earlier this week flew for 26 hours and 9 minutes powered only by solar energy stored during the day.

The Solar Impulse, which has 12,000 solar cells built into its wings, is a prototype for an aircraft that its creators hope will carry out its first circumnavigation of the globe by 2012. The Swiss president of the project said the success of the flight showed the potential of renewable energies and clean technologies. And with what must be seen as a small touch of hyperbole he added, "we are on the verge of perptual flight."

There’s a long way to go yet before thinking about commercial adaptation, not least that the carbon-fibre plane had just an average speed of 23 knots at an altitude of about 25,000 feet.

But still, would you bet against it? Sending men to the moon and bringing them back in a type of aircraft would have seemed a pretty ludicrous proposition to Wilbur and Orville Wright when they kicked off air travel a hundred years or so ago.

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July 9th 2010

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