With each of their great ‘firsts’ the explorers of the last century constantly pushed back the limits of the impossible. Today, the drive to make new discoveries must go on, with the aim of improving the quality of life on our planet. Bertrand Piccard
Our Sustainable Design series would not be complete without an article about Solar Impulse, the extraordinary Swiss-designed solar-powered airplane that can fly day and night without a single drop of fuel.
The timing could not be better, as this month the Solar Impulse team, led by Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, announced the launch of Solar Impulse 2.
This new single-seater solar aircraft has been designed to take up the challenge of the first round-the-world solar flight without any fuel in 2015.
The Solar Impulse team aims to demonstrate how pioneering spirit, innovation and clean technologies can change the world. By reaping its power from the sun, Solar Impulse 2 clearly demonstrates that clean technologies can offer a viable renewable alternative to fossil fuels.
The first generation Solar Impulse aircraft (also known as HB-SIA) has already conquered several key milestones in solar-powered flight.
In 2010 it became the first solar-powered airplane in history to fly through a complete day/night cycle without fuel.
Then in 2012, it completed the world’s first intercontinental flight connecting Switzerland to Morocco.
Piloted alternately by André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, Solar Impulse made its way in the summer from Payerne (Switzerland) to Ouarzazate (Morocco) with intermediate stops in Madrid (Spain) and Rabat (Morocco).
The journey culminated in Piccard and Borschberg being decorated by King Mohammed VI for their courage and efforts to promote the Moroccan solar program.
The following year, Solar Impulse achieved the historic coast-to-coast crossing of the US, San Francisco to New York City.
In meeting all these challenges, the Solar Impulse prototype airplane broke 8 world records for solar-powered flight. Solar Impulse’s pioneering endeavours have also brought worldwide attention to the enormous potential of clean technologies.
A vision counts for nothing unless it is backed up by action. With 8 world records for Solar Impulse 1, the first solar aircraft capable of flying during the night, crossing two continents and flying over the United States, we have shown that clean technologies and renewable energies can accomplish the impossible. Bertrand Piccard
The ultimate challenge will now be a round-the world flight which is scheduled to start in March 2015 from the Gulf area.
To complete this flight, Solar Impulse will have to accomplish what no other aircraft has achieved before: flying without fuel with only one pilot for 5 consecutive days and nights over oceans from one continent to another.
This is the challenge for which the new Solar Impulse 2 aircraft has been built.
Drawing upon years of design, complex simulations and test flights with the first prototype, the Solar Impulse 2 features a range of impressive new technologies, many of which were designed specifically for the aircraft.
It has a gigantic 236 foot wide wingspan – wider than that of a Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet – yet it weighs about the same as a mid-sized car. Solar Impulse 2 is literally an airborne technology lab with virtually endless endurance that will enable it to cross oceans and continents by remaining in the air for several days and nights in a row.
Just imagine your energy reserves increasing during flight! To make this dream a reality, we had to make maximum use of every single watt supplied by the sun, storing any surplus in our batteries. André Borschberg
The giant wings (as well as the fuselage and horizontal tail plane) are covered in 17,248 monocrystalline silicon solar cells that are each only 135 microns thick.
Harvested solar energy will be stored in lithium polymer batteries which are insulated by high-density foam and mounted in the four engine nacelles, along with a system to control charging thresholds and temperature.
Those batteries will serve to power the plane’s four 17.5hp engines, allowing for a minimum speed of 20 kts (about 22mph) at sea level and 31.5 kts (about 35 mph) at maximum altitude.
Needless to say, it is not going to be a quick trip. So Borschberg and Piccard will share the duties of pilot, taking turns at each stop. Even when not controlling the Solar Impulse 2, each will have to overcome the human challenge of sitting for several days in a row in an unpressurized and unheated cockpit. So the plane features a multi-purpose seat built to function as both a reclining berth and toilet. A parachute and a life-raft are packed into the seat-back. When fully reclined, the special seat allows the pilot to perform physical exercises.
For the round-the world flight, Solar Impulse will fly, in order, over the Arabian Sea, India, Burma, China, the Pacific Ocean, the United States, the Atlantic Ocean and Southern Europe or North Africa before closing the loop by returning to the departure point. Landings will be made every few days to change pilots and organise public events for governments, schools and universities.
Solar Impulse describes itself as, ‘A unique adventure that aims to bring emotions back at the heart of scientific exploration, a flying laboratory to find innovative technological solutions for today’s challenges and a vision to inspire each of us to be pioneers in our everyday lives”. The solutions developed for the solar airplane employ technologies of today, which are available to every one of us, and not futuristic technologies. If they were used extensively in our world, they would allow us to halve the amount of fossil energy our society consumes and generate half of the rest with renewable sources.
Although solar airplanes are unlikely ever to carry 300 passengers, the Solar Impulse project certainly achieves its aims in terms of inspiring and encouraging changes in behaviour that can benefit both man and the environment.
As we are only able to provide an overview of the Solar Impulse project within this article, so we highly recommend a visit to the Solar Impulse website. There you will find a wealth of information and material to explore, as well as detailed technical information about Solar Impulse 2. If you are keen to follow the Solar Impulse adventure, you can join the Solar Impulse Supporters Club and receive regular news about the project.
We wish Solar Impulse 2 every success with the forthcoming round-the world challenge, and look forward to following project progress in 2015.
About Solar Impulse
Solar Impulse is a long-range solar-powered airplane that can fly day and night without fuel or polluting emissions. The Solar Impulse project was founded by Swiss pioneers Bertrand Piccard (President) and André Borschberg (CEO).
Project initiator Bertrand Piccard is a doctor, psychiatrist, aeronaut and explorer. From a family of pioneering adventurers, Piccard made the first ever non-stop round-the world balloon flight with Brian Jones in 1999. André Borschberg is an engineer and graduate in management science, as well as a trained fighter pilot and professional airplane and helicopter pilot.
Solar Impulse brings together a multidisciplinary team of engineers, technicians, communication specialists, pilots and aviation experts, all committed to achieving what was thought impossible in the name of technological innovation and a clean and renewable future.
Solar Impulse has broken 8 world records and received a number of recognised awards for aeronautical endeavour and innovation.
Solar Impulse 2 was officially unveiled on 9 April 2014, and will attempt the first solar flight around the world in 2015.
- The Solar Impulse website is an excellent online resource offering information on every aspect of this ground-breaking project.
- Sign up to the Solar Impulse Supporters Club and get regular project updates.
- Follow Solar Impulse on Facebook as it prepares for the first solar flight around the world.
- Stay up-to-date with breaking news by following Solar Impulse on Twitter
Solar Impulse features in the April 2014 edition of Rhine Capital Partners monthly investment updates.
- On 25th April 2014