Is this the future of aviation? Swiss adventurer Betrand Piccard hopes so, and so do we. The plane above is his most recent project: Solar Impulse. Piccard plans to fly this plan across the Atlantic in 2012 and around the world in 2013.
How exactly does one fly on photons?
- The plane has a wing span of 64 meters (equivalent to an Airbus 340) but only weighs 1600 Kg which is equivalent to a small car. This allows th plane to consume the power of a small motorcycle in flight.
- There are 12,000 photovoltaic cells in the wings, averaging 6,000 watts.
- Plane has 400 Kg of lithium batteries that allow it to store energy for night flights.
- The key to the flight is optimizing on energy usage. Solar power is used to takeoff and climbing, while gliding is used at a comfortable altitude (usually 27,000 feet). A pilot optimizes on energy use by deciding when to climb and when to glide.
Solar impulse seems to be a innovations away from carrying commercial passengers, it is however a step in the right direction to mitigate the environmental damage caused by fossil fuel flights. Through innovation and human ingenuity, we will get there in the not so distant future.