Solar Impulse – World’s First Solar Powered Airplane

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At last after seven years of hard work world’s first and only solar powered airplane Solar Impulse made its first real flight on April 7 2010. Solar Impulse, a prototype of an airplane designed to fly around the world using only solar power. On Swiss countryside this aircraft powered by 12,000 solar cells flew for 87 minutes to an altitude of nearly 4,000 feet.

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Solar Impulse program founder Bertrand Piccard called the inaugural flight a crucial step toward fulfilling his goal of circumnavigating the globe in such an unusual aircraft. In a statement from the Solar Impulse team, Piccard said he was relieved to have the first flight completed after seven years of hard work.

”This first flight was for me a very intense moment,” test pilot Markus Scherdel said after emerging from the solar airplane’s podlike cockpit. During the flight, HB-SIA lifted off at just under 30 mph and a relatively short takeoff run. The four 10-horsepower electric motors are expected to deliver enough power for a cruise speed of around 40 to 45 mph. No, Solar Impulse won’t set any speed records.

The wingspan of HB-SIA is 208 feet, that’s about 10 feet more than Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. But the airplane only weighs 3,500 pounds loaded for flight, about 499,000 pounds less than the 787. After more flight testing with the sun powering HB-SIA, the Solar Impulse team hopes to perform night testing later this year. During those flights, the team will examine the viability of the schedule they plan to use for the around-the-world flight. The plan is to climb to higher altitudes during the day, and trade that altitude for airspeed, supplemented with battery power, to continue flying during the night. They expect to fly 36-hour shifts.

“We still have a long way to go until the night flights and an even longer way before flying round the world, but today, thanks to the extraordinary work of an entire team, an essential step towards achieving our vision has been taken,” Piccard said in the statement from the team. The around-the-world flight is scheduled to take place in 2012 with an updated version of HB-SIA. The flight will take place in several stages with pilots alternating regularly and a team on the ground keeping a careful eye on weather for the delicate aircraft.

source: wired

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