Solar plane prototype
Last month the prototype of a new solar-powered aircraft was unveiled at a Swiss airfield by it’s future pilots and promoters Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg.
It’s called the Solar Impulse HB-SIA and is designed to fly both day and night without the need for fuel. It should begin test flights by the end of the year.
There have been two other notable solar planes designed and tested in the last decade, Qinetiq’s Zephyr and NASA’s Helios.
The former is specifically an unmanned aircraft and the latter unfortunately went down in the Pacific after a structural failure.
The goal of the Solar Impulse is the prove the business viability and profitability of renewable energy.
“If an aircraft is able to fly day and night without fuel, propelled solely by solar energy, let no one come and claim that is impossible to do the same thing for motor vehicles, heating and air conditioning systems ,and computers,” Piccard said.
After this year’s test flight, a night flight is scheduled for 2010 to test the plane’s ability to stay in the air for 36 hours without the need for fuel.
In 2012 the team plans to fly the next generation Solar Impulse around the world in a 5 leg trip over six days.
I have to say I’m very impressed and excited about these tests. Hopefully we’ll be seeing more solar energy integrated into aeronautics in the near future since the emissions from airplanes is a major source of carbon in the atmosphere.