Solar Powered Plane Soars Over the Golden Gate Bridge

The world’s first solar-powered plane is stretching its wings over the US. Today it took off from Moffett Field in Mountain View, California — the home of NASA’s Ames Research Center – and flew to San Fransisco, soaring over the Golden Gate Bridge.

Starting on May 1, Solar Impulse will fly across the US to New York, making several stops along the way as a kind of “get to know you” tour for the US while the founders of Solar Impulse, Swiss pilot Bertrand Piccard and and pilot Andre Borschberg, want to spread their message of sustainability and technology. You can read about the cross-country tour here on UT and also on the Solar Impulse website. You can follow Solar Impulse’s Twitter feed for the latest news of where they are.

Solar Powered Plane to Fly Across the US

On May 1, the world’s first solar-powered plane will take off from Moffett Field in Mountain View, California — the home of NASA’s Ames Research Center – and fly across the US to New York. Even though the Solar Impulse plane could probably fly non-stop, day and night with no fuel, instead it will make several stops in US cities such as Phoenix, Dallas, and Washington, D.C. This would be a kind of “get to know you” tour for the US while the founders of Solar Impulse, Swiss pilot Bertrand Piccard and and pilot Andre Borschberg, want to spread their message of sustainability and technology.

“It carries one pilot and zero passengers, but it carries a lot of messages,” Piccard said during a press briefing yesterday. “We want to inspire as many people as possible to have that same spirit: to dare, to innovate, to invent.”

The solar plane made its first intercontinental flight from Spain to Morocco last June, flew continuously through the night in 2010, and by 2015 they hope to fly a similar aircraft around the world.

The Solar Impulse HB-SIA has 12,000 solar cells built into its 64.3-meter (193-foot) wings. That’s longer than an entire Boeing 747 airplane but it weighs just 1,600 kg (3,500 lb), less than a car. It is powered by four electric motors.

Originally built only to prove the possibility of flying day and night, their goal for future flights is to fly for up to five days and five nights, all by one pilot. Such a feat has never been accomplished.

They are using meditation and hypnosis (Bertrand is a psychologist who uses hypnosis) to train the pilots as they prepare to fly on very little sleep, Borschberg said. He added that they are working on an autopilot system would have to be built on the next plane to allow for some rest.

The first stop for the Solar Impulse as it crosses the United States will be Phoenix, followed by Dallas and then one of three cities: Atlanta, Nashville or St. Louis. It will then stop outside Washington D.C. before heading on to New York.

The Solar Impulse team said the stopovers will be a great occasion to spread Solar Impulse’s message meant to inspire people. “Only by challenging common certitudes can there be change and, through conferences on educational themes, Solar Impulse wishes to motivate everybody to become a pioneer in the search for innovative solutions for society’s biggest challenges,” the team said.

You can check on the planned stopovers at the Solar Impulse website.

Solar Powered Airplane Makes First Intercontinental Round-trip Flight

Caption: The Solar Impulse airplane in flight during on July 24, 2012. Credit: Solar Impulse/ Jean Revillard

A unique airplane has just completed a 6,000 km journey, making the first solar-powered intercontinental round-trip air journey. Traveling between Europe and Africa, the Solar Impulse experimental solar airplane landed in Payerne, Switzerland at 08:30 pm local time on July 24, 2012. The trip began two months ago, on May 24 and so was not a test to see how fast it could make the trip, but to assess the endurance and reliability of the craft, as well as bringing awareness to more people of energy issues.

“The goal of this airplane is not just to go from one point to another, but to fly as long as we wish, promote renewable energy and ambitious energy policies,” said pilot Bertrand Piccard, founder of Solar Impulse, during one leg of the intercontinental flight. “All of these have been so successful.”

Solar Impulse flew the eight-leg trip from Payerne to Morocco and back again, with Piccard and André Borschberg taking turns in the single-seat cockpit. They flew Solar Impulse to Madrid, Spain; Rabat, Malta; Ouarzazate, Morocco; Toulouse, France and back to Payerne. The most challenging destination not only for this aircraft but for commercial ones as well was Ouarzazate, a region rich in turbulence and strong winds.

The plane flew during the day but often took off and landed at night to avoid areas of air turbulence called thermals. However, it was almost always brought back to the hangar with a full set of batteries, according to the team at Solar Impulse.

The Solar Impulse HB-SIA has 12,000 solar cells built into its 64.3-meter (193-foot) wings. It weighs 1,600 kg (3,500 lb), and is powered by four electric motors.

Originally built only to prove the possibility of flying day and night (it flew a 26-hour flight in 2010), the prototype airplane is now in the process of collecting a number of distance world records for solar aircrafts, such as straight distance, free distance and distance along a course. The teams hopes to be able to fly the aircraft around the world in a continuous flight.

“It’s been an extraordinary adventure not only for what we’ve achieved with this airplane, originally only designed to demonstrate the possibility of flying day and night with a purely solar energy, but also for what has resulted in a tightly fused team, confident in the project and in their capacity to make it happen,” said André Borschberg, CEO of Solar Impulse. “I am proud what we’ve been able to accomplish together, all of us, from the engineers that have built a fantastic airplane, to the Mission team experts that found a safe but successful strategy to the ground crew who had to operate in challenging conditions and multimedia team who under any circumstance brought the message of the project to the public. The world’s first intercontinental solar-powered flight would have never happened without the fantastic support provided by all people that crossed HB-SIA’s way.”

The video below shows Solar Impulse making a truly elegant landing in Toulouse:

The flight was in conjunction with events in Morocco that promoted investment in innovative projects for job creation and sustainable growth while also decreasing dependency on fossil fuels.

“The success of this mission was not only aeronautical: it also stands in the quantity of positive emotions we managed to bring to the cause of renewable energies,” said Piccard at the end of the flight today.

Learn more about Solar Impulse at their website.

Solar Powered Airplane Successfully Flies Through the Night

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After flying for over 26 straight hours, pilot André Borschberg landed the solar-powered Solar Impulse HB-SIA airplane to cheers and applause at the Payerne airbase in Switzerland, successfully completing the goal of flying the aircraft through the night. According to Bertrand Piccard, president of Solar Impulse, there was power to spare, with over three hours of energy remaining in the sun-gathering lithium batteries. “This is a highly symbolic moment: flying by night using solely solar power is a stunning manifestation of the potential that clean technologies offer today to reduce the dependency of our society on fossil fuels!” Piccard said. “We are on the verge of the perpetual flight.”

With an official flight time of 26 hours and 9 minutes, the lightweight carbon fiber plane reached a a maximum altitude of 8,700 m (28,543 ft), a top speed of 68 knots (ground speed), an average speed of 23 knots. The HB-SIA flew solely on solar power, gathering and storing it during the daylight hours, and using the energy to fly through the night.

Solar Impulse flies towards the night. Credit: KEYSTONE/POOL/Dominic Favre/Solar Impulse

“During the whole of the flight, I just sat there and watched the battery charge level rise and rise! Sitting in a plane producing more energy than it consumes is a fantastic feeling”, said Borschberg, CEO and co-founder of the Solar Impulse project.

The Solar Impulse HB-SIA has 12,000 solar cells built into its 64.3-meter (193-foot) wings, and is a prototype for an aircraft that the Solar Impulse team hope to fly around the world in a continuous flight in 2012.

Solar impulse weights 1,600 kg (3,500 lb), and is powered by four electric motors.

“Nothing can prevent us from another day and night, and the myth of perpetual flight,” a jubilant Piccard said at a press conference following the flight.

Update: Here’s a video from Solar Impulse, as the team waited for the sunrise:

Source: Solar Impulse, Solar Impulse webcast

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