|Solar Impulse 1 during its first "flea hop" test flight in Dübendorf on 3 December 2009.|
|Role||Experimental solar-powered aircraft|
|First flight||3 December 2009|
|Number built||2 (including prototype)|
Solar Impulse is a Swiss long-range solar-powered aircraft project. It is led by Swiss psychiatrist and aeronaut Bertrand Piccard, who co-piloted the first balloon to circle the world non-stop, and Swiss businessman André Borschberg. The privately financed project hopes to achieve the first circumnavigation of the Earth by a piloted fixed-wing aircraft using only solar power.
The first aircraft, bearing Swiss aircraft registration HB-SIA and often referred to as Solar Impulse 1, is a single-seat monoplane, capable of taking off under its own power, and designed to be able to remain airborne up to 36 hours. This aircraft conducted its first test flight in December 2009, and first flew an entire diurnal solar cycle, including nearly nine hours of night flying, in a 26-hour flight on 7–8 July 2010. Piccard and Borschberg completed successful solar-powered flights from Switzerland to Spain and Morocco in 2012, and conducted a multi-stage flight across the USA in 2013.
Building on the experience of the prototype, a slightly larger follow-on design, designated HB-SIB and known as Solar Impulse 2, was built and first flown in 2014. It is planned to make a circumnavigation of the globe in 2015. This flight was initially planned for 2014, but following a structural failure of the aircraft's main spar during static testing in 2012, the flight was rescheduled for 2015. The circumnavigation is scheduled to begin in March 2015 in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and to return there five months later.
- 1 Design and development
- 2 Prototype aircraft (HB-SIA)
- 3 HB-SIB (Solar Impulse 2)
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 External links
Design and development
Piccard initiated the Solar Impulse project in November 2003 after undertaking a feasibility study in partnership with the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. By 2009 he had assembled a multi-disciplinary team of 50 engineers and technical specialists from six countries, assisted by about 100 outside advisers and 80 technological partners. The project is financed by a number of private companies and individuals. The first company to officially support the project was Semper Gestion, after co-founder Eric Freymond was convinced of the future success of the highly media-friendly Bertrand Piccard. At present the main partners are Omega SA, Solvay, Schindler and ABB. Other partners and supporters of the project include Bayer MaterialScience, Altran, Swisscom, Swiss Re (Corporate Solutions), Clarins, Toyota, BKW FMB Energie and Symphony Technology Group. The EPFL, the European Space Agency (ESA) and Dassault have provided additional technical expertise, while SunPower provided the aircraft's photovoltaic cells. In October 2013, Solar Impulse announced that Peter Diamandis had committed to supporting the project after meeting with Solar Impulse officials during that year’s Google Zeitgeist.
- 2003: Feasibility study at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
- 2004–2005: Development of the concept
- 2006: Simulation of long-haul flights
- 2006–09: Construction of first prototype (HB-SIA; Solar Impulse 1)
- 2009: First flight of Solar Impulse 1
- 2009–11: Manned test flights, including first all-night flight in 2010.
- 2011–12: Further test flights through Europe and North Africa in 7 legs
- 2011–13: Construction of second prototype (HB-SIB; Solar Impulse 2)
- 2013: Continental flight across the US of Solar Impulse 1 (Mission Across America)
- 2014: First flight of Solar Impulse 2
- 2015: Planned world tour of Solar Impulse 2, in several stages over five months, expected to begin in March
Prototype aircraft (HB-SIA)
With a non-pressurized cockpit, the HB-SIA is primarily a demonstrator design. The plane has a similar wingspan to the Airbus A340 airliner. Under the wing are four nacelles, each with a set of lithium polymer batteries, a 10 hp (7.5 kW) motor and a twin-bladed propeller. To keep the wing as light as possible, a customised carbon fibre honeycomb sandwich structure is used. 11,628 photovoltaic cells on the upper wing surface and the horizontal stabilizer generate electricity during the day. These both propel the plane and charge its batteries to allow flight at night, theoretically enabling the single-seat plane to stay in the air indefinitely.
The aircraft's major design constraint is the capacity of the lithium polymer batteries. Over an optimum 24-hour cycle, the motors can deliver a combined average of about 8 hp (6 kW), roughly the power used by the Wright brothers' Flyer, the first successful powered aircraft, in 1903. In addition to the charge stored in its batteries, the aircraft uses the potential energy of height gained during the day to power its night flights.
- Crew: 1
- Length: 21.85 m (71.7 ft)
- Wingspan: 63.4 m (208 ft)
- Height: 6.40 m (21.0 ft)
- Wing area: 11,628 photovoltaic cells rated at 45 kW peak: 200 m2 (2,200 sq ft)
- Aspect ratio: 19.7
- Loaded weight: 1,600 kg (3,500 lb)
- Max. takeoff weight: 2,000 kg (4,400 lb)
- Powerplant: 4 × electric motors, 4 x 21 kWh lithium-ion batteries (450 kg), providing 7.5 kW (10 HP) each
- Propeller diameter: 3.5 m at 200 to 400 rpm (11 ft)
- Take-off speed: 35 kilometres per hour (22 mph)
- Cruise speed: 70 kilometres per hour (43 mph)
- Endurance: 36 hours (projected)
- Service ceiling: 8,500 m (27,900 ft) with a maximum altitude of 12,000 metres (39,000 ft)
Maiden flight and other early flights
On 26 June 2009, the Solar Impulse was first presented to the public at the Dübendorf Air Base, Switzerland. Following taxi testing, a short-hop test flight was made on 3 December 2009, piloted by Markus Scherdel. André Borschberg, co-leader of the project team, said of the flight:
"It was an unbelievable day. The airplane flew for about 350 metres (1,150 ft) and about 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) above the ground ... The aim was not to get high but to land on the same runway at a speed to test its controllability and get a first feeling of its flying characteristics ... the craft behaved just as the engineers had hoped. It is the end of the engineering phase and the start of the flight testing phase."
On 7 April 2010, the HB-SIA conducted an 87-minute test flight, piloted by Markus Scherdel. This flight reached an altitude of 1,200 m (3,937 ft). On 28 May 2010, the aircraft made its first flight powered entirely by solar energy, charging its batteries in flight.
First overnight flight
|Wikinews has related news: Solar-powered plane completes 26-hour flight|
On 8 July 2010, the HB-SIA achieved the world's first manned 26-hour solar-powered flight. The airplane was flown by André Borschberg, and took off at 6:51 a.m. Central European Summer Time (UTC+2) on 7 July from Payerne Air Base, Switzerland. It returned for a landing the following morning at 9:00 a.m. local time. During the flight, the plane reached a maximum altitude of 8,700 m (28,500 ft). At the time, the flight was the longest and highest ever flown by a manned solar-powered aircraft; these records were officially recognized by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) in October 2010.
International and intranational flights
Belgium and France (2011)
On 13 May 2011 at 21:30 local time, HB-SIA landed at Brussels Airport, after completing a 13-hour flight from its home base in Switzerland. It was the first international flight by the Solar Impulse, which flew at an average altitude of 6,000 ft (1,800 m) for a distance of 630 km (391 mi), with an average speed of 50 km/h (31 mph). The aircraft's slow cruising speed required operating at a mid-altitude, allowing much faster air traffic to be routed around it. The aircraft was piloted by Andre Borschberg. The project's other co-founder, Bertrand Piccard, said in an interview after the landing: "Our goal is to create a revolution in the minds of people...to promote solar energies – not necessarily a revolution in aviation."
A second international flight to the Paris Air Show was attempted on 12 June 2011, but the plane turned back and returned to Brussels, due to adverse weather conditions. In a second attempt on 14 June, André Borschberg successfully landed the aircraft at Paris' Le Bourget Airport at 9:15 pm after a 16-hour flight.
First intercontinental flight (2012)
On 5 June 2012, the Solar Impulse successfully completed its first intercontinental flight, a 19-hour trip from Madrid, Spain, to Rabat, Morocco. During the first leg of the flight from Payerne, Switzerland, to Madrid, the aircraft broke several further records for solar flight, including the longest solar-powered flight between pre-declared waypoints (1,099.3 km (683 mi)) and along a course (1,116 km (693 mi)).
United States (2013)
On 3 May 2013, the plane began its cross-US flight with a journey from Moffett Field in Mountain View, California, to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in Arizona. Successive legs of the flight took the Solar Impulse to Dallas-Fort Worth airport, Lambert–St. Louis International Airport, an overnight stop at Cincinnati Municipal Lunken Airport, and Washington Dulles International Airport; it concluded at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport on 6 July. Each flight leg took between 19 and 25 hours, with multi-day stops in each city (except Cincinnati) between flights.
After the first leg to Phoenix, the aircraft completed the second leg of its trip on 23 May, landing at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. This flight, which covered 1,541 kilometres (958 mi), set several new world distance records in solar aviation. On 4 June, the plane landed in St. Louis, Missouri. It departed for Washington DC on 14 June, stopping overnight in Cincinnati, Ohio, to change pilots and avoid strong winds. On 16 June, the plane landed at Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia. On 6 July 2013, following a lengthy layover in Washington, Solar Impulse completed its cross-country journey, landing at New York City's JFK International Airport at 11:09 p.m. EDT. The landing occurred three hours earlier than originally intended, because a planned flyby of the Statue of Liberty was cancelled due to damage to the covering on the left wing. The aircraft was placed on public display at JFK after its landing. HB-SIA was disassembled in the USA and brought back to Dübendorf Air Base (ICAO: LSMD) on the 5 August 2013 by a Cargolux B747F. Thereafter, HB-SIA remained in storage in a hangar at Dübendorf AFB.
HB-SIB (Solar Impulse 2)
Construction of the second Solar Impulse aircraft, carrying the Swiss registration HB-SIB, started in 2011. Completion was initially planned for 2013, with a 25-day circumnavigation of the globe planned for 2014. However, a structural failure of the aircraft's main spar occurred during static tests in July 2012, leading to delays in the flight testing schedule to allow for repairs. HB-SIB's first flight occurred at Payerne aerodrome on 2 June 2014.
The wingspan of HB-SIB is 71.9 m (236 ft), slightly less than that of an Airbus A380, the world's largest passenger airliner, but unlike the 500-ton A380, the carbon-fibre Solar Impulse weighs only 2.3 tonnes (5,100 lb), little more than an average automobile. It features a larger, non-pressurized cockpit and advanced avionics, including an autopilot to allow for multi-day transcontinental and trans-oceanic flights. Supplemental oxygen and various other environmental support systems allow the pilot to cruise at an altitude of 12,000 metres (39,000 ft).
Data from Solar Impulse Project
- Crew: 1
- Length: 22.4 m (73.5 ft)
- Wingspan: 71.9 m (236 ft)
- Height: 6.37 m (20.9 ft)
- Wing area: 17,248 photovoltaic cells (269.5 m2)
- Loaded weight: 2,300 kg (5,100 lb)
- Powerplant: 4 × electric motors, 4 lithium-ion batteries (633 kg), providing 13 kW (17.4 HP) each
- Propeller diameter: 4 m (13.1 ft)
- Take-off speed: 35 kilometres per hour (22 mph)
- Maximum speed: 77 kts (140 km/h) 49 kts
- Cruise speed: 90 km/h
- Service ceiling: 8,500 m (27,900 ft) with a maximum altitude of 12,000 metres (39,000 ft)
HB-SIB was first publicly displayed on 9 April 2014. Its inaugural flight took place on 2 June 2014, piloted by Markus Scherdel. The aircraft averaged a ground speed of 30 knots, and reached an altitude of 5,500 feet. The first night flight was completed on 26 October 2014, and the aircraft reached its maximum altitude during a flight on 28 October 2014.
Due to the repair work to the aircraft's main spar, its circumnavigation was rescheduled for March 2015. The flight is expected to circle the world in the northern hemisphere; the closest it will get to the equator will be a flyby of Honolulu at 21.3° N. Five stops are planned to allow changes of pilots. Each leg of the flight will last three to four days, limited by the physiology of each pilot. The departure and arrival point are set to be Abu Dhabi. The aircraft was delivered to Masdar in Abu Dhabi for the World Future Energy Summit in late January 2015, and it is expected to begin the circumnavigation between 27 February and 1 March 2015. The legs of the flight crossing the Pacific and Atlantic oceans are each expected to take between five and six days.
The route is expected to be as follows:
- Abu Dhabi to Muscat, Oman
- Across the Arabian Sea to Ahmedabad and Varanasi, India
- Mandalay, Myanmar
- Chongqing and Nanjing, China
- Across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii and then Phoenix, Arizona
- New York
- Across the Atlantic Ocean to either southern Europe or Morocco
- Finally to Abu Dhabi.
- Electric aircraft
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- Tûranor PlanetSolar, the first solar vehicle to circumnavigate the Earth
- Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Solar Impulse.|
- Official website and YouTube channel
- Bertrand Piccard's solar-powered adventure – lecture at TED (17 min). July 2009
- Solar-powered plane aims to fly around the world. 60 Minutes. CBS News. December 2012
- How does Solar Impulse work? How It Works. 13 May 2011
- Record-attempting solar powered plane's first 'hop'. BBC. 4 December 2009
- Solar Impulse plane starts 24-hour test flight . BBC. 7 July 2010
- Article about Solar Impulse at RobotPig.net. 2005
- Article about Solar Impulse at SolarChoice.net. 2010