It’s been four years in the making but a prototype of the Solar Impulse, the HB-SIA, completed its first test run in Zurich in December. A fascinating venture to promote solar energy as a means of alternative energy-based transpiration, the Chairman of Sun Impulse and co-founder of this project Bertrand Piccard (yes, that’s really his name) hopes the craft will circle the globe in 20 days by the year 2012. To do so, it will require approximately 12000 solar cells that will need to be attached to the plane’s wings and fuselage, allowing it to store at least 14 hours of energy.
On its test run, it flew about 350 meters at an altitude of one meter. Weighing as much as a car and with the wingspan of an Airbus 340, the plane can fly up to 8500km (over 5,000 miles) with an average speed of 70kmph (almost 43 mph). For Its next scheduled test flight in April, it’s slated to fly a 36-hour flight – the equivalent of a complete day-night-day cycle – without any fuel. If successful (and we hope it will be) this could revolutionize the aviation industry.
In a world depending on fossil energies, the Solar Impulse project is a paradox, almost a provocation: it aims to have an airplane take off and fly autonomously, day and night, propelled uniquely by solar energy, right round the world without fuel or pollution. An unachievable goal without pushing back the current technological limits in all fields.