Solar Impulse was an idea born in Switzerland. The zero-fuel and solar powered concept of Solar Impulse, has similarities to its cousin, the Solar Taxi, which was conceived in Lucerne. I reported on Solar Taxi in the last issue (June 2013) of Swiss News. Perhaps the solar car is where my fascination with Swiss solar energy all started. However, Solar Impulse is a solar plane and thus, can fly! As the sun finally has come out throughout Switzerland, the solar-energized ideas appear to be not only in fashion, but also coming to fruition this year.
Coast to Coast chasing the sun
Solar Impulse embarked on its ambitious Across American 2013 tour on 3 May, taking off from San Francisco on the West Coast and headed towards the East Coast. Solar Impulse was nurtured across the language border, in the French-speaking part of Switzerland in sunny Canton Vaud.. I first heard about it on a coffee break with Francophone colleagues, who mentioned sponsoring one of the tiny solar cells on the plane's magnificent 80 m. (263 ft) wingspan. The thought that we were helping provide renewable fuel for a first of its kind of flight was truly exciting! Solar Impulse was constructed at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, by a team of technical researchers. The two inventors are aeronaut Bertrand Piccard and businessman Andre Borschberg, who came are its official pilots. As there is only space for one person to pilot the cramped one-seater plane, the two inventors take turns. Flying solo is quite a daring feat. Referring to the Swiss innovators as "adventurists" is a well-deserved term.
Watching videos of the invention in flight is both eerie and spectacularly beautiful at the same time. Unlike large noisy aircrafts, which we have become accustomed to, the solar plane glides silently through the air. As it is zero-fuel and completely solar powered, it requires quite the real estate of solar panels to soak up the rays of sunshine. The plane has the wind-span of a jumbo jet. The solar-plane flies at an average speed of only 60 km or 40 miles per hour. It can travel overnight under darkness, due to its capacity to store solar energy. To the naked eye it appears almost like an oversized bird. It smoothly and expertly lands without much ado. The longest the plane is estimated to be able to fly is 24 hours. Across the North American continent, Solar Impulse has...