Flying on the wings of the sun

A plane powered by the sun will soon attempt to fly around the earth. In March, the Swiss made Solar Impulse II will attempt a non-stop round the world trip harnessing the energy of a star to propel it around the globe.

The Solar Impulse Project, if successful, will have designed and built the first solar powered aircraft to circumnavigate the globe, showing that solar powered craft are indeed the way of the future. Yesterday it arrived at its launchpad in Dubai where the craft will soon travel ‘over India and China, taking in Hawaii and the rest of the US before crossing the Atlantic to southern Europe, northern Africa and completing the circle back to the UAE. This diurnal flight pattern suggests that it will make the crossing in daylight, chasing the sun across the skies, although it will be amply prepared to defy gravity during the nocturnal hours.

The $124 million project has so far built two solar powered aircraft, conducting many test flights across the globe in an effort to make renewable energy viable for commercial flight. The current record for the Solar Impulse I was a 26 hour non-stop flight, including a six hour night flight. The aircraft is a propeller driven single-wing aircraft, with the upper surface of the wingspan entire covered in solar PV panels.

Design Schematics of the Solar Impulse II

Founder of the Solar Impulse Project Dr Bertrand Piccard believes that “if an aeroplane can fly with no fuel around the world, can you imagine how this technologies could be used everywhere? We have today solutions, technical solutions, to divide by two the energy consumption of the world, and simultaneously create jobs and make profit for the industry”.

This truly is a wonderful and inspiring sentiment from Piccard; it is a startling coincidence that such an inspiring and ground-breaking leader shares (almost) the same name as one Captain Jean-Luc Picard, of Star Trek fame, who’s motto was “to boldly go where no man has gone before”. Although just a phrase from a sci-fi television series, truer words were never spoken.

Fly high and fly well Solar Impulse II, and may your journey be a successful one, full of discovery!