Print 27 comment(s) - last by moenkopi.. on Jul 9 at 12:35 PM

  (Source: associated press)

  (Source: associated press)
The Solar Impulse is relying on sun power as it rides around the clock and attempts night flight.

The Solar Impulse, an experimental solar plane, took off on a historic ride around the world early today from Geneva, Switzerland.   Supporters hope that this flight will prove the value of solar energy.

According to team co-founder Bertrand Piccard, a record-breaking balloonist who's father and grandfather also accomplished  pioneering airborne and submarine feats, the prototype has been designed to test and promote new energy-efficient technologies.  

"The goal of the project is to have a solar-powered plane flying day and night without fuel," Piccard said. "This flight is crucial for the credibility of the project."

Ten test flights have been completed since the project began seven months ago. The prototype aircraft is a single-seater shaped like a giant dragonfly.  It has 12,000 solar panels spread across its 207 foot (63 meter) wingspan.   The aircraft is powered by four small electric motors and will depend on the sun to charge its batteries. 

The theory is that the aircraft will store enough energy during the day to last through the night.  Pilot Andre Borschberg, a former flight jet pilot, will attempt to stay alert during the flight with the help of a ground control team that is monitoring the aircraft on the teams website

Borschberg,  57, is wearing a parachute just in case he runs into trouble in the air.

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A neat toy
By MozeeToby on 7/7/2010 5:53:17 PM , Rating: 2
It's a neat toy, but I can't foresee a piloted version of a solar plane every gaining traction as a commercially viable device. Now, remove the pilot, replace him with the necessary autopilot, cameras, and communication equipment (<30lbs) and you might just have something worthwhile but even still I can't imagine it being cheaper or easier for most uses than a much simpler lighter-than-air solution.

RE: A neat toy
By Harinezumi on 7/7/2010 6:37:29 PM , Rating: 4
This technology is still in its infancy, though. Someone's got to prove the concept, stimulate the public's imagination, and provide a benchmark on which to improve. The Kitty Hawk wasn't exactly an intercontinental jet liner either.

RE: A neat toy
By Nfarce on 7/7/2010 8:26:33 PM , Rating: 5
Aviation is a little different than other technologies when it comes to advancement. It takes a lot of power with minimal weight to maximize an aircraft's efficiency, capability, and performance. Solar power can't provide that and never will. If you think we'll be seeing the equivalent of this aircraft, which is an awesome feat, in an airliner that's solar powered one day, don't hold your breath.

Second, the Wright Flyer (Kitty Hawk was where it first officially flew) and a modern commercial jet airliner were/are both powered by engines that burn a version of petroleum. Aircraft over the past 100+ years have gotten bigger and more aerodynamic and their engines more powerful, especially with the introduction of the gas turbine. All of which are why we can fly hundreds of people a third of the way around the globe nonstop on one airliner.

Think of this as an interesting tangent in aviation, not a new frontier in evolution and progress large scale.

RE: A neat toy
By Nightbird321 on 7/7/2010 8:37:05 PM , Rating: 1
With some proper sensors & camera equipment and refitted as a drone, something like this could immediately be pressed into service by the US military for flying search patrols 24/7 in Iraq/Afghanistan, or by the US immigration to police the US-Mexico border. This type of plane's range wouldn't be hampered by frequent refueling, though weather could be a factor unless it can fly above cloud systems.

There would be some competition with blimps though as a scouting platform, it would be interesting to crosscheck strengths and weaknesses.

Slightly off topic, does anyone know how efficient solar panels are at converting solar energy? Unless we're only harvesting a few percent right now, I don't see this ever ferrying people or cargo (unless in blimp form I guess).

RE: A neat toy
By retepallen on 7/8/2010 2:59:35 AM , Rating: 2
Additionally, think about the application for installing solar cells within the wings of commercial airliners.

You could use the power that this generates (with no batteries) to supplement the power requirements for running air conditioning or lighting within the plane.

This could have a small yet important impact on the fuel economy of air-travel.

RE: A neat toy
By moenkopi on 7/9/2010 12:35:04 PM , Rating: 2
First make ground control more efficient by having hybrid systems in the wheels of aircraft, so they wouldn't need their engines to maneuver on the ground.

RE: A neat toy
By Murloc on 7/8/2010 6:41:13 AM , Rating: 2
the efficency is low.

There's much space for improvement.

and anyway this is research done for the sake of it, not to make profit out of it.
If you don't start somewhere you will never make any advancements.

RE: A neat toy
By wushuktl on 7/8/2010 6:49:48 AM , Rating: 3
Yeah you have to start somewhere! I don't understand why a website geared specifically towards technology, research and the advancement of technology has so many commenters that are so quick to talk down on anybody trying to do anything!

RE: A neat toy
By niva on 7/8/2010 1:28:15 PM , Rating: 2
The technology is not in it's infancy, nor is it a new idea about running using solar power and charging batteries while in insolation and discharging batteries during the dark. The international space station runs on the same concept, except day/night cycles are much shorter than this aircraft would experience. For the ISS night is typically <40 minutes while this airplane will experience night as many hours.

The application is interesting, I agree with the above poster that at this stage non-man vehicles are much more practical. I do hope they make it though, it's a marker someone has to cross eventually.

RE: A neat toy
By Flunk on 7/8/2010 9:22:47 AM , Rating: 2
Already been done. NASA has already tested unmanned solar planes for weather forcasting. They look a lot like this but a bit smaller and no cockpit.

RE: A neat toy
By mars2k on 7/8/2010 10:35:24 AM , Rating: 2
What about a Hybrid system. Lightweight solar systems would not weigh musch more than the paint already used on planes. Can someone estimate how much power the upper surfaces a 747 could genrate if equiped with such a system?
Wouldn't that be that much less fuel required for a long flight? Even without batteries the savings during daylight flight would be worthwhile.
After all don't jets fly above the clouds on cloudy days?

RE: A neat toy
By headbox on 7/8/2010 1:05:42 PM , Rating: 2
You can't see it as viable because you just poo-poo on other people's innovation while typing from a cubicle or your mom's basement.

"Death Is Very Likely The Single Best Invention Of Life" -- Steve Jobs
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