Solar-Powered Plane "Solar Impulse" Has Successful Maiden Test Flight
Would you fly in an aircraft that uses no gas but gets energy from the sun directly?
In 1980, the very first ultra-lightweight experimental solar plane took off with one pilot on board, but the flight was brief. But just a year later, another pilot flew a solar plane named “Solar Challenger” from France to England in nearly five hours.
The maiden test flight of “Solar Impulse” lifting off at a military airport in the Swiss countryside this past Wednesday, was a large improvement on those earlier projects. It hovered over the city of Payerne for about 90 minutes, reaching a top altitude of nearly a mile and logging an average cruising speed of 44 mph.
The plane, designed by a Swiss team headed by Bertrand Piccard ,has wings as wide as Boeing 747. Equipped with 12,000 solar cells, 880 pounds of lithium batteries and four 10 horsepower electric motors, the plane weighs about 3,500 pounds, the weight of an average midsized car.
The plane took off after a short acceleration run to a speed of 30 mph, then performed some interesting maneuvers while onlookers applauded enthusiastically. Pilot Markus Scherdel landed the plane safely proving that the plane can be handled like a a traditional one.
Piccard has set his next goal as flying the solar plane around the world in 2012. To achieve it, the plane must fly day and night without any fuel. For the project team, the main objective is to demonstrate that the renewable energy has arrived, and is ready to replace fossil fuel.