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Solar Airplane that can fly at night!

There seems to be a refreshing new hope for all of us interested on entering a new era of efficient, renewable and non-contaminating energies. For some of us, Solar Power stands as the best candidate.

This new hope is brought by SOLAR IMPULSE, a project founded by Bertrand Piccard, psychiatrist and aeronaut and André Borschberg, an engineer and graduate in management science. For seven years, a team of 50 engineers and technicians have been working on the HB-SIA solar aircraft, a zero fuel and completely solar powered aircraft that is able to flight at night.

Solar Powered vehicles have been in development from the 1980’s. For a long time there were not really satisfying results. Even today when you mention solar powered vehicles people tend to imagine a really bulky thing that moves very slow and just stops if the sky gets cloudy – just a scientific curiosity that has no practical use.

However, the SOLAR IMPULSE team is changing the scenario.

SOLAR IMPULSE

SOLAR IMPULSE is a partnership between several companies (Solvay, Omega and Deutsche Bank among others) that expresses a positive vision of scientific adventure, environmental awareness and contribution to the future generations.

This brings some hope on a world that is currently based on squeezing up earth’s natural resources until the last drop to get economic benefits for just a reduced number of people, and not taking future or present consequences in account.

There is certainly a necessity of abandoning this resource exhausting economy because it simple won’t be possible to continue with it much longer. In the words of SOLAR IMPULSE founder, Bertrand Piccard:

“Adventure is not necessarily a spectacular deed, but rather an “extra-ordinary” one, meaning something that pushes us outside our normal way of thinking and behaving. Something that forces us to leave the protective shell of our certainties, within which we act and react automatically. Adventure is a state of mind in the face of the unknown, a way of conceiving our existence as an experimental field, in which we have to develop our inner resources, climb up the path of our personal evolution and assimilate the ethical and moral values, which we need as our travel companions.”

HB-SIA Solar Powered Aircraft

HB-SIA Official Picture

From the beginning of the project the intention was to produce acompletely self-sufficient solar powered aircraft that could sustain flight on both day and night, and come close to perpetual flight. This is a tremendous challenge since that -even with recent advances on PV cells that make them much more efficient- the balance between precise aerodynamics and the dimensions required by the solar panels array to produce the necessary energy it is something very difficult to achieve. Also, materials have to be very lightweight yet very resistant.

HB-SIA prototype has a 63.40 meters wingspan – almost exactly the same as the giant Airbus A340-500- and has the weight of an average car at 1600 kg. Making an aircraft with that characteristics is something new in the aeronautics world. In order to achieve this the airplane structure was constructed with carbon fibre-honeycomb composite. The solar panels are encapsulated and placed on the upper-side of the wings, while the bottom is covered with high resistance flexible film.

The Aircraft is able to sustain night fly because it stores the solar powered energy on lithium polymer batteries. This may be the more problematic issue to improve as the energy storage systems weights 400kg – one fourth of the overall weight- and it is not really efficient.

HB-SIA TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

Wingspan 63.40 m

Length 21.85 m

Height 6.40 m

Motor power 4 x 10 HP electric engines

Solar cells 11,628 (10,748 on the wing, 880 on the horizontal stabilizer)

Average flying speed 70 km/h

Maximum altitude 8,500 m (27,900 ft)

Weight 1,600 kg

Take-off speed 35 km/h

CURRENT STATUS

On 7 April 2010 the prototype made a successful maiden flight.

As reported by SOLAR IMPULSE, on 7 July 2010 at 06:51, the HB-SIA took off from the Swiss Payerne airbase with André Borscherg, CEO and co-founder, at the controls. This time the intention is to perform a full night flight.

As this article is being written the aircraft has already fully charged the batteries and has entered in shadows of the night. We will update to inform about the outcome of the mission, that we are confident it will be successful.

UPDATE: SOLAR IMPULSE HB-SIA HAS SUCCESSFULLY COMPLETED THE FIRST NIGHT FLIGHT BY A SOLAR POWERED PLANE. ACCORDING TO SOLAR IMPULSE:

The plane was up in the air yesterday for the whole day, then through the entire night, flying solely on solar energy. This flight is the longest and highest in the history of solar aviation!

FLIGHT REPORT
Pilot: André Borschberg, CEO and Co-founder
Take-off time: 07/07/2010 – 06h51
Landing time: 08/07/2010 – 09:00
Flight duration: 26 hours 09 min
Maximum speed: 68 knots (ground speed)
Average speed: 23 knots
Maximum altitude: 8564 m (above sea-level)

Our congratulations to the Solar Impulse team for making good & clean history!

SOLAR IMPULSE SITE: http://solarpower.com/

HB-SIA OFFICIAL BROCHURE: http://www.solarimpulse.com/pdf/hb-sia/hb-sia_en.pdf

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