Posting in Design
A solar powered aircraft the size of a commercial jetliner made an intercontinent flight form Europe to Africa this week. Could the sun be enough for commercial transportation?
Yesterday, pilot Bertrand Piccard accomplished a landmark achievement that he hopes could lead to the reinvention of aviation technology: an intercontinental flight in a fully solar powered aircraft.
It's too early to tell whether the name Piccard will be as revered in the chronicles of aviation history as Charles Lindbergh, but he has proven that the sun's energy is enough to keep a plane in the air day and night - carrying one person.
The plane originated in Switzerland, stopped over in Madrid due to a technical glitch, and then continued onward to Morocco. The 1,550-mile flight took 20 hours, according to a BBC News report. (Watch here for video).
Piccard is the president of Solar Impulse, the designers of the solar plane, which is close to the size of the 240+ passenger Airbus A340. A major difference is that Solar Impulse's aircraft weighs the same as a family car due to its use of all carbon fiber components.
(Kudos to any Star Trek fans who also wished Piccard's first name was Jean-Luc).
New technology is not without its growing pains. Boeing's 787 Dreamliner plane is also made using a carbon fiber composite structure; however, its introduction has been plagued by production delays, worried whistleblowers, and mandatory inspections.
Meanwhile, most airlines are taking a more conventional approach to managing energy problems with existing aircrafts. Air China, Air New Zealand, British Airways, Continental Airlines, Japan Airlines, KLM, Lufthansa, United Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic are among those trialing biofuels on routes today.
The solar experiment will continue unabated against the biofuel trend. Solar Impulse is planning a flight around the world, culminating in a 2014 world tour. While the proof of concept is interesting, I have to wonder whether the technology is anywhere near ready for long-haul commercial duty.
Related on SmartPlanet:
- Your night flight could be plant powered
- Powered by cooking oil, Boeing's 787 crosses the Pacific
- 787 Dreamliner prepares for launch
- First Dreamliner photos
- Boeing 787 master plan: create a family of them
Jun 6, 2012
go west...keep the sun with you as long as possible. being light has its downsides (pushover in turbulence) but on the other hand it doesnt have explosive fuel and if you crash its easier to slow your descent so you dont hit as hard may even bounce. crashes might have some whiplash or broken bones but a lot fewer fatalities. also you wont get much from flying them into buildings (so can we please ease up on the security when getting on one of these things?) as for energy density, its not about the energy density you can charge the batteries in advance then you just need to either keep ahead of the drain or lessen the drain significantly, something i have little doubt solar can do. the question is: how FAST can it go?
Their work is paying off by inspiring others. This airplane is nearly ready for prime time with performance closing in on the market leader for that class plane. The Cessna 172. http://gas2.org/2012/04/12/elektra-one-ev-plane-adds-solar-panels-doubles-range/
This is a huge aircraft to transport just one person. And you have to wonder how it would do in violent weather. Solar just does not have the energy density to transport humans directly. The best bet is using the sun to create biofuels first, effectively concentrating and storing the sun's output.