Flying Solar

Posted 13th March 2015 by Elodie Wawrzyk

Yes, in 2015 we are flying solar! Currently, pilots and founders Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg are part of an incredible journey to circumnavigate the globe, using only solar power.

Solar Impulse 2 is a single-seater plane consisting of 17,000 solar cells built on its wings. These cells supply solar energy to its four electric motors and four lithium polymer batteries. The batteries supply the aircraft with power during the night, providing the plane with unlimited autonomy.

Borschberg explains: "We can fly day and night, in fact we can fly a week, we can fly months, non-stop… the first time we have an airplane which has unlimited endurance." In addition to this unlimited endurance, the plane is exceptionally light due to its carbon fiber structure. It weighs just over two tones, which is the equivalent of a family car.

The plane is set to complete a journey of over 35,000km in 5 months, which will be split in 12 legs. The journey began last week in Abu Dhabi. Some segments of the trip will be longer than others; however the pilots have been well prepared, thanks to training simulations. Given the small cockpit size (3.8 cubic meters), the journey’s 12 segments will alternate between both pilots.

In some instances, they will be required to fly 5 days and 5 nights continuously, while traveling over the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean. Solar Impulse’s second leg from Muscan, Oman to Ahmebadad, India set a new world record for a solar plane flight. A total distance of 1468km was travelled in 15 hours.

This initiative is a prime example of the incredible innovation and versatility that solar technology provides. As Piccard explains: "Very often people believe that renewable energies, and energy efficiency… a step backward, instead of a step forward". Piccard emphasizes: "What we want to demonstrate with Solar Impulse is that you can achieve absolutely impossible things with renewable energies, like flying an airplane around the world with no fuel".

Source: Amos J 2015, ‘Solar Impulse: Oman to India journey sets new record’, BBC, viewed 13th March 2015.

Frangoul, A 2015, ‘ Solar powered aircraft: A flight or fancy’, CNBC, viewed 13th March 2015.

Solar Impulse 2015, ‘Our Adventure’, viewed 13th March 2015.

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