Solar impulse: ready for take-off.

AuteurVogel-Misicka, Susan


Imagine an airplane that runs on solar power alone--in the light of day and in the dark of night. Bertrand Piccard and his Solar Impulse team are turning that vision into reality, one solar panel at a time.

"Yesterday it was a dream; today it is a plane; tomorrow it will be an ambassador of renewable energy," says Bertrand Piccard, the initiator of the Solar Impulse challenge. The 52-year-old Swiss adventurer and psychiatrist launched the project in 2003, just a few years after his round-the-world balloon trip with British balloonist Brian Jones. For the Solar Impulse venture, Piccard has partnered with Swiss pilot and engineer Andre Borschberg, 57. The two men share the workload according to their areas of expertise

"Andre, as an engineer, was primarily involved in setting up and leading the technical team needed to construct the aircraft. From my side I was responsible for funding the project and promoting it in the world of politics, business and media as a symbol of how new technologies can contribute to sustainable development," Piccard says. Meanwhile, a team of 70 people has spent years helping to develop and build the Solar Impulse HB-SIA--the first aircraft designed to fly both day and night without using fossil fuel or creating pollution.

Vital stats

With the wingspan of a Boeing 747-400 (63.4 metres) and the weight of a typical family car (1,600 kg), the Solar Impulse will run solely on solar energy. Its wings are covered with nearly 12,000 small solar cells that will power the plane's four electric motors. During the day, those ceils will also charge the 400-kilo pack of lithium-polymer batteries, enabling the Solar Impulse to fly through the night.

Because the horsepower is comparable to that of a scooter, the average speed will be just 70km per hour. For that reason it will take three to four weeks to travel around the world. The exact route has yet to be determined, but the plane will stay near the equator to collect the maximum amount of sunlight. Meanwhile, the same meteorologist who guided Piccard's balloon trip around the globe in the Breitling Orbiter 3 will help the Solar Impulse team to avoid stormy weather. The plane's slender cockpit can accommodate one pilot, but no passengers, so the intrepid Piccard and Borschberg will take turns flying solo for up to five days (!) at a time--meeting at pre-arranged locations to hand over the helm.

"We won't get much sleep, but we'll use resting techniques...

Pour continuer la lecture


VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT