Solar plane steals show in ParisA zero-emissions aircraft powered by solar cells starred at the Paris Air Show last Sunday, noiselessly soaring above the great and the good of the global ...
But the Solar Impulse aircraft, catchily named the HB-SIA, has proved that it is possible to fly by the power of the sun alone.
And so last Sunday’s demo flight was a very different, non-polluting, near-silent finale to the usual ear-splitting, kerosene-fuelled climax to the Paris Air Show.
The HB-SIA gently took off at the scorching pace of 35 km/h and took a sedate 20-minute turn—average flying speed 70 km/h—around the Le Bourget airfield.
It had arrived for the show earlier in the week after a 16-hour flight through Belgium and France. The ultimate goal is to fly nonstop around the world.
Solar Impulse’s creation is a marvel of modern engineering.
Basically a gigantic flying wing with 12,000 solar cells on top, the HB-SIA has the wingspan of an Airbus A340, the weight of an average family car, and the looks of a gigantic stick insect.
It’s made of ultra-light carbon fiber and the solar cells charge batteries during the day that enable the plane to fly at night and also power four electric motors which each produce on average just eight horsepower, about the same as the Wright Brothers managed in 1903!
That so little power manages to get such a large aircraft off the ground is incredible.
The project’s raison d’être is to demonstrate that we don’t need as much fossil fuel energy as we think, and that energy savings don’t have to be at the expense of mobility: in other words, to get people to challenge conventional wisdom, and to explore the alternatives to fossil fuels.
Solar Impulse’s co-founder is Bertrand Piccard, the Swiss adventurer famous for first piloting a hot air balloon nonstop around the world. The Piccard family tree boasts many inventors and explorers and the family name was reportedly the inspiration for Star Trek’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard.
Maybe Solar Impulse can inspire scientists and engineers around the world to boldly go where no man has gone before.