Soon the world’s skies will know another traveler—Solar Impulse 2, the first plane designed to fly across the world for days at a time using only the power of the sun. Earlier this week the plane, like a giant Estes Glider, took its first flight in Switzerland ahead of the team’s plans to fly around the globe in 2015.
The test flight was the first in a series of flights designed to ensure that the plane can endure the transcontinental flight. “Each stage is a leap into the unknown,” said Bertrand Piccard, Solar Impulse founder, president and pilot. “The results show that our team of engineers can be very proud of the work it has accomplished during the last 10 years,” he said.
The plane, which is covered with 17,000 SunPower PV cells, flew at an average speed of about 34.5 miles per hour and was flown by Test Pilot Markus Scherdel. Ultimately for the flight around the world the plane will be flown by Piccard and Co-Founder André Borschberg.
“This inaugural flight is an important stage—a step closer towards the round-the-world flight. It is also a huge emotional step for the entire team and all our partners who have worked on the aircraft. Si2 incorporates a vast amount of new technology to render it more efficient, reliable and in particular better adapted to long haul flights,” said Borschberg. “It is the first aircraft which will have almost unlimited endurance.”
Though the plane is solar-powered it also has more than a ton of lithium batteries, which allow its four electric motors to power the plane through the night. While the plane has a 72-meter wingspan, the electric motors and batteries, it weighs roughly 5071 pounds, equivalent to the weight of a mid-sized truck like a Ford F150.
The plane’s predecessor, Solar Impulse 1 made it’s longest flight last year when it crossed the U.S. in a bit more than 105 hours. That plane flew at an average speed of about 16.8 miles an hour.
While there’s little possibility that the public will fly in a purely solar-powered plane anytime soon the work being done by the Solar Impulse team is showing the possibilities that solar power and advanced materials have. After all the new plane is built out of carbon fiber and uses advanced technologies developed by the team that may have other applications.Tweet