Next month, the Solar Impulse — a single-seater billed as the world’s first solar-powered plane — will fly from California to New York in an attempt to demonstrate its ability to fly nonstop, during daylight and nighttime hours, without needing any fuel. The plane’s extra-long wings are covered in photovoltaic cells, and the power they generate feeds four electric motors. Other test flights done so far include a 26-hour journey over the Swiss Alps and a trip from Spain to north Africa.
What’s the Big Idea?
Although solar-powered commercial flights aren’t coming anytime soon, the Solar Impulse’s co-creator and pilot Andre Borschberg says that their plane was designed “to push people’s assumptions about what solar technology can do.” In order to achieve their goal of a plane that could fly through the night, the design team had to make it weigh less than a typical car, which involved stripping the cockpit down to its bare essentials and leaving out such things as pressurization, heating, and even a separate toilet. In addition, it has a top speed of only 50 miles per hour. Still, Borschberg’s description of flying the Solar Impulse makes it sound like a truly unique experience: “The contact with the external world is much more intense.”