Solar-Powered Plane to Embark on Cross-Country Flight May 1

Published On April 1, 2013 | Green Tech

The world’s first solar-powered plane will make a cross-country flight from California to New York this summer. The aircraft, which can only carry one pilot, uses no fuel, weighs less than a car and is powered by four electric motors.

On a flight from Morocco to Spain in 2012, pilot Bertrand Piccard discovered that he was flying backwards in his solar plane, named Solar Impulse. Piccard explained that the super-light plane, which weighs about the same as a small Hyundai, is susceptible to strong headwinds that can turn the plane around. If the wind is at the plane’s back, flying backwards isn’t a problem.

On May 1, Solar Impulse will lift off from Moffett Field in California and fly to JFK Airport in New York. Piccard and fellow pilot Andre Borschberg are calling this adventure a mission to acquaint Americans with sustainability and the latest in aircraft solar technology.

“We want to inspire as many people as possible to have that same spirit: to dare, to innovate, to invent,” Piccard said at a recent news conference.

Stops are planned in Phoenix, Dallas and Washington DC before ending in New York. A fifth stop, which is still undetermined, will be made in Atlanta, St. Louis or Nashville.

This journey is a preparation for a bold flight that will take the solar aircraft on a trip around the world in 2015.

Solar Impulse is essentially a giant winged aircraft with a glider’s body. It’s wider than a jumbo jet from wing-to-wing. Imagine an array of solar cells on a rooftop, and that’s what the solar aircraft looks like.

There are 12,000 solar cells embedded into the Solar Impulse’s 193-foot wings that provide power to the batteries stacked inside the fuselage. The craft weighs 3,500 pounds and is powered by four electric motors. The cruising speed is about 35 mph. A Port-A-Potty is installed on the plane.

In theory, the plane could stay aloft for months. However, flying is hard work, and the pilots must land to sleep, eat and refresh themselves. Therefore, the pilots need to limit themselves to 24-hour flying shifts. Otherwise, the flight from California to New York could be made without landing. The plane is capable of flying both in the day and at night. The pilots plan to use hypnosis and meditation techniques to stay aloft and awake.

If all goes well in this shake-down transcontinental trip, a flight around the world is scheduled next. The plane has 80 sponsors lined up to pay for the adventure.

The pilots believe it’s possible for solar flight to be a part of the future. What do you think?

— By Editor

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