Switzerland-based Solar Impulse has achieved the first-ever 24-hour solar-powered flight, flying both night and day on solar power alone. World Radio Switzerland reported “History is Made: Solar Plane Makes it through Night”, and the first manned nighttime solar flight is a major technological achievement. The plane was flying, as company partners and engineers have said, at the limits of the technology, and made it to 26 hours after takeoff, with as much batter power as when it took off.
Pilot André Borschberg told World Radio Switzerland, in a pre-dawn interview from the cockpit: “It is an incredible moment to be in this cockpit all alone, watching the stars in the sky and the lights down there…thinking about flying through the night and seeing the sunrise, I think this will be incredible.” Borschberg’s focus on the beauty of the moment may ultimately be overshadowed by his contribution to the future of flight.
The revolutionary new plane conceals a wealth of state-of-the-art technology and innovative design. Some 80 partners, including many Swiss companies, have helped conceive, build, test and fly the prototype.
A jubilant and exhausted André Borschberg, the Swiss pilot and CEO of Solar Impulse, touched down at Payerne airfield north of Lausanne at 9am after a successful 25-hour fuel-less flight over the Jura mountains and Lake Neuchâtel, west of the Swiss Alps.
The record-setting fuel-less flight is a major breakthrough in zero-combustion transportation, demonstrating that as technology evolves, zero-combustion air travel is possible. The achievement is also a major demonstration of the revolutionary potential of photo-voltaic solar power.
Bertrand Piccard, adventurer and co-founder of Solar Impulse, explained “It’s much more than just an aeronautical adventure; it’s a technological demonstration of what we can offer society in terms of renewable energy”, adding that “We want to promote the implementation of the same technologies in cars, heating systems, computers, air conditioning, etc.”
The Solar Impulse strategy includes moving ahead with a world-around flight in fives stages, over 20 to 25 days, in 2013 or sooner. According to SwissInfo.ch, “The plane has the wingspan of 63.40 metres (the same as a Boeing 747-400) and the weight of a small car (1,600kg)”, an indication of the complexity of the technological challenge.
12,000 solar panels feed solar power to 4 motors operating at 10 horsepower each, with an average flying speed of 70 km/h. Achieving major engineering breakthroughs to increase the power-generation potential of the aircraft’s photo-voltaic solar array, narrow its wingspan and increase its overall weight-bearing capacity will be crucial for long-term commercialization.