Solar Impulse 2 is flying around the world right now!
I’ve not heard about this until recently, but there is currently a pioneering flight taking place around the world using nothing but sunshine for fuel. Beginning on March 8th, the Solar Impulse 2 airplane took flight from the United Arab Emirate of Abu Dhabi to go on the first leg of its world trip, being powered exclusively by sunlight generated electricity.
The single-seat airplane has a top speed of 45 km/h and it took about ten hours to fly to Muscat, Oman, circling awhile until the right weather conditions came about to land the craft. This plane is an upgraded version, the original Solar Impulse which flew across the U.S.A. in 2013. Both planes were built by Solar Impulse, a group led by the adventurous Swiss men, Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg.
The first leg of the trip was piloted by Borschberg. The remaining dozen or so parts circling the planet will be piloted by either he or Piccard over the next several months. At just 10 hours, the first leg didn’t require the planned exotic meditation, yoga and self-hypnosis techniques required for later, much longer flights. While crossing the great Pacific Ocean, one flight will take at least five days an nights! During these, the pilot will only expect to take twenty minute naps, using a computer system and goggles that flash light, to wake the pilot if something requires his attention. Another safety precaution is a vibrating armband that is activated when the airplane exceeds more than a five degree bank angle, (because the airplane would lose lift). The 3.8 cubic meter cockpit is unheated and unpressurized, very cramped, and has a removable bottom for use as a toilet. If you see it coming, try not to let if fly directly over you?
The Solar Impulse 2 is an engineering marvel; it has a wingspan of 72 meters, longer than a Boeing 747! The primary component in its structure are carbon-fiber sheets weighing in at just 25 grams per square meter, about three times lighter than a similar sized piece of paper! The carbon fiber is only used sparingly for spots where forces push on the airplane. The wings’ interior, fuselage and other areas of the airplane are empty, saving even more weight.
On top of the wings, body and even the tail are 17,248 solar cells, thin as human hair, used to generate the electricity the plane flies on. Some of the electricity is stored in four lithium polymer batteries, which take over powering the plane’s four electric motors at night, spinning two propellers under each wing. The plane weighs a total of 2,300 kg, the four batteries being the heaviest part, (633 kg). It took 12 years to design, test and create the plane, costing some $140 million.
The airplane will climb as high as 8,500 meters by mid-afternoon, then slowly decreasing altitude to about 1,500 meters at night. This will save energy before the next dawn, gliding as much as possible, also giving the two adventurers a pollution-free flight as much as possible. They hope to inspire the use of solar materials into other, more common aircraft and elsewhere. Check out the project, including where they currently are at their website.