An airplane in flight around the world without any fuel or source of power apart from the solar cells on its wings? If you’re thinking this is an impossible feat, you’re not alone. The people behind Solar Impulse are calling it a crazy gamble too, and I don’t blame them or anyone who might be just a teensy bit apprehensive about the project! While I have the greatest hope for solar-powered anything, a solar airplane sounds kind of out of reach at the moment.’
From the Solar Impulse website:
…the energy gathered during the day will have to serve not only to propel the plane, but also to recharge the batteries to ensure flying by night. It is essential for the pilot to approach each night with full batteries and economize available energy to the maximum, to be able to stay in the air until the next sunrise.
Therefore, the greatest challenge, before the round-the-world trip, will be the first complete night flight.
For the solar panels, the day begins late and finishes early: one will only be able to count on about eight hours of “usable” light per day! Indeed, the lower the sun is on the horizon, the less efficient are its rays.
A real count-down will begin each evening, therefore, and the suspense will not reach its peak until the end of the night! One will know the exact time at which the sun will again be able to “feed” the plane’s cells… and hope to reach this moment, before the batteries empty themselves completely.
Apart from being a way to prove the viability of solar energy, this sounds like a bit of derring-do to me! The plane takes off on its around-the-world journey in May 2011, and by then, I’m sure every inch of the plane and every detail of the project has been carefully thought out!