Solar Impulse - solar=powered flight takes to the skies
This time, Icarus didn’t fall out of the sky.
On this past Wednesday afternoon, a pioneering aviation company hailing from Switzerland made small history when they flew a new kind of aircraft across the idyllic Swiss countryside. Their iconic prototype airplane has become the largest, lightest aircraft to ever successfully fly, but what makes this success truly spectacular is the new craft’s power source. This Swiss company has harnessed the power of an unlikely (and largely underused) renewable and non-polluting power source: the Sun.
Solar Impulse, or HB-SIA, is the first aircraft to successfully use unique solar energy to power the entirety of the vehicle. The aircraft is powered by 12,000 solar cells covering its wings and tail, which supply four 10-horsepower electric engines with the energy necessary to power a vehicle 10 ft broader than a Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner and weighing as much as an average sedan. The solar-powered plane flew for 87 minutes and reached an altitude of 4,000 ft; taking off after a short takeoff run at 30 mph. The craft achieved an in-air cruise speed of between 40 and 45 miles per hour. The aircraft also “met the [team ’s] expectations” in regard to piloting, handling, and other in-flight situation simulations.
The goal of SOLAR IMPULSE SA, the corporation behind the engineering and construction of the HB-SIA, is to eventually circumnavigate the globe in an exclusively solar-powered air craft. 7 years of research, testing, success and failure led to the team’s ground-breaking flight on April 7, 2010. This success with the prototype craft puts the team on the right path to meet their goal of total circumnavigation in 2012.
SOLAR IMPULSE SA began this project with a mission to enrich human life by creating alternate types of travel employing renewable, non-polluting energy sources. The HB-SIA’s flight produced no air pollution, no greenhouse gasses, and only minimal noise pollution. The company believes that they can challenge conventional aviation and technological beliefs, showing that fossil and nuclear fuels are not the only paths available to follow for transportable power sources. They believe that by creating a symbol of innovation using only renewable energies, it will inspire more movers-and-shakers to employ similar “outside the box” thought processes when constructing their ideas and see the immense possibilities that sustainable energies can bring. From the SOLAR IMPULSE SA website:
“At each major premiere, the adventurers of the last century pushed back the limits of the impossible. Today, human and technical enquiry must go on, with a view to improving the quality of life for humanity. By writing the next pages in the history of aviation with solar energy, as far as a flight around the world without fuel or pollution is concerned, Solar Impulse's ambition is to contribute in the world of exploration and innovation to the cause of renewable energies. To demonstrate the importance of the new technologies in sustainable development, and of course, once again, to place dream and emotion at the heart of scientific adventure.”
The HB-SIA aircraft will hopefully become a recognizable forerunner in the movement to use more solar power as a renewable energy source. The idea is catching on, slowly (even in a green-friendly place like San Francisco, CA), and it is my opinion that implementation on a broader scale has been dragging due to the lack of “something” to show that solar power actually “works;” something to look up to as an example. The cause needs star power, a "celebrity" kind of marketing that creates a bond between high-reaching aspirations and the everyday lives of people. I feel that SOLAR IMPULSE SA and its HB-SIA could become just that, and its continued success could help inspire more individuals and more corporations to turn to solar energy as a major power source. Solar power needs to be made “attainable,” and while the HB-SIA is a whimsical example, I feel that its potential celebrity status is capable of bringing solar and other renewable energies down to a more human level.
This small, dream-driven Swiss company has successfully made history with their prototype craft, which had previously been deemed impossible. They’ve used their incredible intellects to show the world that our sun can do more than feed flowers and power calculators, and (hopefully) inspire other innovators and regular folks to look up and dream a little before choosing the source of their power.