Friday Gadget: Solar Impulse Plane

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I think we all agree that we need to figure out how to harness more of the sun’s energy, but I’m wondering how many of you would get on a plane powered by the sun?  Solar power has already been used to power unmanned aircraft, but the challenge of hauling a heavy human up into the atmosphere remains more daunting.  

There’s a company by the name of Solar Impulse is currently testing their solar-powered plane they call HB-SIA.  Solar Impulse’s stated goal is to build and fly a human piloted solar powered plane around the world. 

The current HB-SIA prototype features four electric motors.  The aircraft’s wingspan is as wide as a jumbo jet (to provide maximum solar panel space), but thanks to space-age carbon-fiber materials only weighs as much as a mid-sized car.

In a few weeks the plane is scheduled to attempt a very short flight where it will lift off the runway no more than 10 feet and then land again, to see how it behaves at the beginning of the flight.”  Then in February the plan is to take the plane up for a full flight.   After that, there are plans for some longer flights. 

Still there is lots of testing before an around the world flight can be attempted.  For the plane to make it around the world, it will have to fly at night.  Batteries are charged during the day by the sun and then used to power night time flight.  

For more, see  http://www.solarimpulse.com.   For videos, check out http://www.solarimpulse.com/sitv/index.php