Solar powered plane begins journey around the world

With a goal to inspire, the Solar Impulse sets off on its trip around the world, powered by nothing but the sun.

Solar Impulse 2

The Solar Impulse 2: A one seat, solar powered plane with a goal to inspire the world. Over the coming weeks, the Solar Impulse 2 will be traveling around the world powered by nothing but the sun.

It got off to a successful start yesterday morning, when it touched down in Oman after flying for 13 hours from Abu Dhabi. The two cities are relatively close by; so close, in fact, that it would take a commercial airliner only 1 hour to go from one to the other. This is 12 hours less than the Solar Impulse 2 took, but while an airliner will pollute our atmosphere and consume fuel, the Solar Impulse 2 puts out no emissions.

The Solar Impulse 2, as its name implies, is solar powered. It is piloted by the Swiss André Borschber, founder, and Bertrand Piccard, co-founder, who will switch off at each stop along the way. Starting off the journey from Abu Dhabi was André Borschber, who flew all the way to Oman, where he will switch off with Piccard.

Solar Impulse 2

“The flight went really well, everything went as planned,” says a team spokesperson. While this is only 288 miles of the over 20,000 mile journey, everyone is optimistic. It will take about 500 hours of flying time to finally reach the place they started from.


The 5,000 pound plane’s wingspan is longer than that of a Boeing 747, and part of the reason for that is that the wingspan is used to hold the plane’s massive array of solar panels. The panels charge up batteries which power the 17.4 horsepower motors. That’s enough power to hurtle the plane through the air a measly 20 to 90 mph.

The short journey of 288 miles only required it to climb to 19,000 feet. The coming 5 day journey across the pacific though, will require it to reach higher altitudes. The pilots use a system that involves them flying up to the maximum altitude of 28,000 feet during the day, and during the night they turn the engines down to low power and coast down to 5,000 feet. This allows them to recharge the batteries during the day without burning them out at night.

Stage two of the trip will begin from Muscat today, Tuesday, at 7 am local time. The plane will be flying to Ahmedabad, India over the course of 20 hours and 910 miles. After that, its itinerary includes Myanmar and two stops in China before it makes the 5 day pacific crossing. Its first break after the 5 days will be in Hawaii before it departs again to Phoenix. It will then continue to the midwest (TBD based on weather),  then New York’s JFK airport, from where it will depart on its trans-atlantic journey to either Southern Europe or North Africa. Finally, on its last leg of the journey, it will return to its origin of Abu Dhabi.

The purpose of the flight isn’t to prove to people that solar powered flight is viable, or to make a profit – since the technology truly is far from becoming mainstream – but to simply prove that it’s possible, and to perhaps pave the way for people to take the concept further in the future.

[quote_center]“When the Apollo astronauts went to the moon, it wasn’t to launch tourism on the moon and open hotels and make money,” Piccard says. “It was to inspire the world.”[/quote_center]




SOURCEWired
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Daniel Heppner
My big interests are photography, IT, and electronics. I like to get out the soldering iron and build things for my house that light up. I've traveled around the world taking pictures and consider the viewfinder an extension of my eyeball. I build computers for myself and friends for fun, and have experience with software programming. I have experience programming underwater robots for robotics competitions, as well as wiring up the circuitry for them.

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