Solar Impulse ready for first intercontinental flight

May 23, 2012
Staff prepare to tow the pioneering Swiss sun-powered aircraft Solar Impulse after its unique flying display at the Paris International Air Show at Le Bourget airport near Paris in June 2011. Solar Impulse will on Thursday attempt its first intercontinental flight, travelling from Switzerland to Morocco without using a drop of fuel, organisers said.

The Swiss sun-powered aircraft Solar Impulse will on Thursday attempt its first intercontinental flight, travelling from Switzerland to Morocco without using a drop of fuel, organisers said.

If successful it will be the longest journey to date for the craft after an inaugural to Paris and Brussels last year.

Organisers announced at the end of March that the 2,500 km (1,550 mile) trip will coincide with the launch of construction on the largest ever solar thermal plant in Morocco's southern Ouarzazate region.

The plane is scheduled to take off from a military airport at Payerne in Switzerland at 06:45 am (0445 GMT), piloted by Andre Borschberg, who is expected to land in Madrid at around 2:00 am on Friday for a stopover.

Bertrand Piccard will pilot the second leg on to Rabat, scheduled to leave Madrid on Monday at the earliest, organisers said.

In Morocco, will be welcomed by the Moroccan Agency for (MASEN).

The trip would be a rehearsal in the run-up to the plane's round-the-world flight planned for 2014.

The high-tech aircraft, which has the of a large but weighs no more than a saloon car, made history in July 2010 as the first manned plane to fly around the clock on the sun's energy.

It holds the record for the longest flight by a manned solar-powered aeroplane after staying aloft for 26 hours, 10 minutes and 19 seconds above Switzerland, also setting a record for altitude by flying at 9,235 metres (30,298 feet).

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Eikka
2.3 / 5 (3) May 23, 2012
But is it useful in any sense, or is it just a thing you can do if you want to spend a lot of money?

What would it take to make a solar plane carry, let's say ten passengers and their luggage, over a distance it can travel during the sunny part of a day?
Anorion
3.8 / 5 (8) May 23, 2012
probably as useful first airplane from Wright brothers
or as useful as shooting in space Sputnik, an satellite whose only purpose it to emit constantly beep beep beep beep ...
rubberman
4.8 / 5 (6) May 23, 2012
Given the advances spurred on by Sputnik and the Wright brothers, this is a promising beginning.
Eikka
2 / 5 (4) May 23, 2012
Given the advances spurred on by Sputnik and the Wright brothers, this is a promising beginning.


In some senses, this is a step backwards by doing things the hard way. Kinda like making an airplane with a steam engine, which in fact has been done, and the reason you've probably never heard of it is that it wasn't actually very useful even though the idea was sound.

I'd like to see some calculations like, how much solar power you can obtain and how much stuff you can carry with it.

gmurphy
4.8 / 5 (4) May 23, 2012
The advantages of having a plane that never needs to refuel are immense, even if the payload is small, there's still a useful set of applications, such as mapping or localised/ad-hoc telecommunications infrastructure, not to mention surveillance.
islatas
4.3 / 5 (3) May 23, 2012
What would it take to make a solar plane carry, let's say ten passengers and their luggage, over a distance it can travel during the sunny part of a day?


I don't get the impression you read the article. This plane has already proven it can stay aloft long after the sun has set. It flew for over 26 hours straight over Switzerland in 2010 and reached altitudes of over 30,000 ft. Tomorrow it will begin a 48 hour flight. These acheivements utilizing solar power seem useless to you?
Russkiycremepuff
1.2 / 5 (5) May 23, 2012
This is remarkable development and I like it. But three days of no sunlight may ground plane, so it should also have alternate power mechanism.
dschlink
4.8 / 5 (5) May 23, 2012
Oddly enough, sunless days are caused by things called "clouds". All the plane has to do is fly above them and, Bingo!, sunshine.
CapitalismPrevails
3.3 / 5 (3) May 23, 2012
Perhaps planes like this could help with UAV technology or provide wider cell phone reception.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) May 24, 2012
In some senses, this is a step backwards by doing things the hard way.

The way we are doing it now (using jet engines and fossil fuels) is the hard way. Because at some point we'll have to clean all the shit up that this causes - and we have absolutley NO idea how to do that.

Don't confuse 'seemingly easy' (while conveniently turnnig a blind eye towrads all 'hard' ramifications) with 'really easy'.

I'd like to see some calculations like, how much solar power you can obtain

Go to their wikipedia page:
http://en.wikiped..._Impulse
For electricity gathered (max) just multiply solar constant times efficiency of the cells times area.

But three days of no sunlight may ground plane

Batteries can (and are) recharged on the ground before takeoff. Once above the clouds you have no 'day without sunlight'.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) May 24, 2012
Perhaps planes like this could help with UAV technology or provide wider cell phone reception.

The Pirate Bay are actually thinking of putting their servers on such UAVs that float/fly indefinitely.
http://www.usnews...orcement
MarkyMark
not rated yet May 24, 2012
A very promissing development this i can think of many uses for a aircraft with 'Infinate' fuel.
Eikka
1 / 5 (1) May 24, 2012
I don't get the impression you read the article. This plane has already proven it can stay aloft long after the sun has set. It flew for over 26 hours straight over Switzerland in 2010 and reached altitudes of over 30,000 ft. Tomorrow it will begin a 48 hour flight. These acheivements utilizing solar power seem useless to you?


Yes, if it means that all the potential payload capacity is taken up by the batteries. As such, it will only have very niche applications.

Compromizing on the ability to fly overnight makes the plane lighter and frees up more power to do the actual flying instead of charging the batteries, giving it much greater carrying capacity and a shorter wingspan. That's because the battery charging time window is relatively short, 4-5 hours per day, so you spend 80% of the available power in charging up.

The plane only really needs enough energy to lift itself above the clouds, and once there it has enough daylight for short to medium distance flights.
Eikka
not rated yet May 24, 2012
The way we are doing it now (using jet engines and fossil fuels) is the hard way. Because at some point we'll have to clean all the shit up that this causes - and we have absolutley NO idea how to do that.


Shifting the goalpost there.

Jet engines work. They can carry large loads over long distances. Do solar planes have the potential to do the same? Perhaps, but it's certainly a more difficult proposition than simply burning an energy-dense fuel to obtain thrust.
Eikka
not rated yet May 24, 2012
The solar panels on the wings have a peak power of around 50 kW, so a solar plane of that size couldn't even in theory carry much more than a mailbag. The limit is the solar panels. From Google, their daily average power budget is just 6 kW, which means that the plane will actually glide downwards during the night because it doesn't have enough power to maintain level flight.

As an exercise in extreme frugality, I applaud them. As a scientific instrument, it has potential. As a general purpose airplane, nah.

I guess that answers my question.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet May 24, 2012
Jet engines work. They can carry large loads over long distances. Do solar planes have the potential to do the same?

Eventually I'm sure of it. And for most freight a few hours more or less isn't an issue.
Perhaps, but it's certainly a more difficult proposition than simply burning an energy-dense fuel to obtain thrust.

If it were easier we had probably done it first, wouldn't you think? It's always easy to do things if you can be wasteful.

The times when we can afford to be wasteful are over. The planet is wasted enough. We need to realize ther are factors other than "is it cheaper?"
When the environment isn't in a state to support human life anymore that kind of attitude just won't fly. Literally.