Solar Impulse to fly 2,500 km without liquid fuel
By Tamás Kugyela | Thursday 29 March 2012
Solar Impulse, the first aircraft capable of flying day and night relying exclusively on solar power, is to go on a mission to fly 2,500 kms between Switzerland and Morocco in May or June this year. Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, the two leaders of the project, announced, on 28 March, to attempt the flight which, if successful, will mark the longest airborne journey ever to have accomplished without the use of fossil fuels.
The arrival is timed to coincide the launch of a major solar construction project in Morocco, the first phase of the North African country’s ambitious plan of a transition to renewable energy sources. Morocco intends, by 2020, to build five solar complexes, generating in total 2,000 megawatts. The first solar-thermal/photovoltaic complex in the region of Ouarzazate is expected to generate a total of 500 MW by 2015. The German-led Desertec Industrial Initiative groups the major stakeholders and takes care of the technological, economic and regulatory preparations (see supplement to
The Solar Impulse plane, which has the wingspan of an Airbus A340 (63.4 m) and the weight of a car (1,600 kg), is fuelled by solar panels covering its wings. It had its first 87-minute flight on 7 April 2010 and three months later it proved that it is possible to fly solely on this resource even during nighttime by storing spare electricity in the 400 kg lithium batteries (see
Europolitics4092). In 2011, the aeroplane flew to Brussels and Paris.
The goal of the present mission, according to Solar Impulse, is to gather additional experience in cooperating with international airports, integrating the prototype into regular air traffic patterns and managing the logistics of maintenance.
“Flying as far as this, powered only by solar energy will be excellent training for the round-the-world trip,” said engineer and pilot André Borschberg. The second aircraft, which is designed to be able to cross the globe in 2014, is already under construction.