Solar powered plane Solar Impulse is all set to make its first international flight today (13 May 2011).
The aircraft has been developed in Switzerland and has already made the world’s longest manned solar flight, clocking up a 26-hour journey in 2010. Now, with favourable weather conditions expected, the prototype plane is gearing up for its first international journey.
It will take off from Switzerland’s Payerne airfield and, if everything goes to plan, fly across Luxembourg airspace at an altitude of 3,600 metres to land at Brussels Zaventem Airport after a flight time of around 12 hours.
It’s taken several months to plan the tricky mission, with the Switzerland-based team working closely with air traffic controllers and meteorologists.
You can follow the solar powered flight live on the Solar Impulse website, with cockpit and mission control centre cameras letting you see all the action. There’s also a Twitter feed and even a special free Solar Impulse app for your smart phone, where you can check the plane’s location, speed and altitude in real time.
Solar Impulse was designed by Bertrand Piccard, who made the first round the world balloon flight, and ex-fighter pilot André Borschberg. The solar powered aircraft will be piloted by Borschberg himself for the groundbreaking journey.
Apart from the adventure of it all, the Solar Impulse team aims to further the cause of renewable energy, promote realistic alternatives to fossil fuels and show their importance for sustainable development.
The plan is to eventually aim for a non-stop round the world flight in Solar Impulse, flying round the globe without fuel or pollution, day and night, powered only by the sun. It’s a tall order, as the pilot will have to cleverly use the energy available to them.
Previous solar aircraft have not been designed to store sufficient energy for long flights and have had to land when sunlight runs out at night or during cloudy weather. Solar Impulse is different, however. Its pilot will have to ensure that as night falls, the aircraft’s batteries are full to take it through the dark hours of night and then fly as economically as possible to make it through to the dawn.
The Switzerland to Belgium trip is one huge leap into making this solar powered round the world trip a reality. It all goes to show that while we may not be seeing a whole fleet of solar planes at Heathrow airport just yet, the potential for solar power is enormous. Indeed, solar panel kits and solar security lights for home electricity are already widely available, and can provide cheap, clean energy even in the UK, as they can produce renewable energy even on cloudy days.