‘Save Our Planet’ starring Solar Impulse

It’s a bird . . . it’s a plant . . . it’s a car . . . no, it’s a plane!

Actually it’s like the Superman of planes, ready to save our daily planet.

Solar Impulse, you know it?

Solar Impulse is a solar airplane, sporting 12,000 photovoltaic cells on its wings, which, like a plant, soaks up energy from the sun for power, but the power juices the four electric motors.

It’s like a giant bird, with a wingspan of an Airbus A340 (63 meters), but weighing only as much as a car, so light enough to surf on wind currents for miles and miles.

What a plane!

Today near Zurich Solar Impulse was unveiled to the public for the first time. Six years of hard work by 70 people, creating a true aerospace innovation, and just in time. We desperately need viable eco transportation solutions given the state of our planet.

According to the official Solar Impulse website, here’s the challenge:

In a world depending on fossil energies, the Solar Impulse project is a paradox, almost a provocation: it aims to have an airplane take off and fly autonomously, day and night, propelled uniquely by solar energy, right round the world without fuel or pollution. An unachievable goal without pushing back the current technological limits in all fields…

I just got off the phone with our PR Manager Virginie who was lucky enough to attend the unveiling. Her impressions:

Today marked a page in history. When everyone saw the aircraft, it was a WOW moment. The plane doesn’t look like any plane you can imagine. It’s very long, and very thin.

Virginie was impressed by the project’s “around the world” ambition, because:

There will only be one pilot in the plane at a time. And each pilot will take a shift of five days, during which he will fly NON-STOP. No sleep, just meditation and micro siestas.

That cockpit better be pretty darn comfortable! Well, not too comfy- don’t want any accidental dozes . . .

Did you know the engineers used Dassault Systèmes’ CATIA and ENOVIA Smarteam to design Solar Impulse? According to the press release:

Because Solar Impulse is a new and complex aerospace invention, it was critical for engineers to be able to test a wide range of design configurations, including various combinations of solar panels and lightweight composites structures. For example, Solar Impulse engineers used CATIA to define the best allocation of solar cells to comply with the energy specifications. The engineers also used CATIA for ergonomics analysis to optimize the aircraft pilot’s comfort in various positions.

Virginie told me that first flight tests will begin this fall, and that a second Solar Impulse will be built.

I should have photos taken at the event to publish in time for Monday, so stay tuned . . .

Meanwhile, enjoy this Solar Impulse Unveiling video:

And if you were there for the unveiling, please share your impressions and any photos you took in the comments section! (I’ll try not to be jealous 😉 )

You can also see what people are saying about #solarimpulse on Twitter.

Best,

Kate

  • Jonathan

    Looks like a great project…but haven’t we already seen solar powered one man large wing span gliders? OK, this one is very adventurous in flying time and distance.

    Compared to the automotive industry I still believe (it’s just my personal opinion, so please correct me) that the aviation industry is a long way off sustainable transportation solutions. OK, I know there’s a lot of work being done on 2nd & 3rd generation biofuels but still, will it be enough? It is much more feasable to power road & rail transport by electricity thanks to the relatively easy access to charging and electric overhead lines. But can you imagine an A380 taking off using electric power, and today’s very short runways? It will certainly make the passengers’ hair stand on end!!

    Another point is park renewal. The automotive industry can renew the park roughly every 15 years in developed countries, but for the aviation industry it is at least 40 years. Normally this is a very good business model (see post on Riversimple) for durability but not for ridding us of our old inefficient means of transport.

  • You make some excellent points Jonathan. I think we desperately need to look at eco transport in the aerospace domain and agree that Solar Impulse is not The Answer. However, it’s a project that I hope will inspire the aerospace sector to develop alternatives. What if some of the techno being developed for Solar Impulse can be transferred and adopted to the commercial aerospace industry? And why not? The Wright brothers were the ones to officially launch the industry with their successful First Flight off the sand dunes in Kittyhawk, North Carolina. Although many tried before. I think we desperately need projects like Solar Impulse, and hundreds of them, so that one of them will provide the breakthrough technology to make air transport more sustainable.

    Now that said, I can’t foresee that I’d feel comfortable flying transatlantic with my family on purely Solar Impulse technology. But I can imagine I’d be happy to be on a plane that uses solar power to compliment the rest. Wouldn’t you?

    Any aerospace experts out there who can jump into our chat? You’re expertise is welcome! 😉