Solar-powered plane debuts at Paris Air Show
The single-seated demo plane carrying its blissful pilot Andre Borschberg is often delayed as there is heavy breeze or light sunlight.
The aircraft created a world record
While the aircraft has reserved a record book spot for its pilot for flying 26 hours in an exclusively solar-powered aircraft, it is also continuously sparking frustrations that travellers anywhere can relate to.
The aircraft took 16 hours to reach Paris from Brussels, a five hour flight to make the distance plus 11 hours hovering over the Airbase, waiting for the breeze to settle down enough for it to take ground.
Solar Impulse: features and specifications
A panel of 70 engineers and designers from the Swiss city of Zurich developed the Solar Impulse. It has a lean dragonfly fuselage along with a cockpit fabricated for one pilot only.
Its massive wings are completely armed with energy-trapping solar cells like those used in small houses.
The aircraft has a wingspan of 61 meters which is equivalent to those of A340s, Airbus’ long-range aircraft. The body is made from lightweight carbon fiber stuff which provides it a weight comparable to that of a benchmark passenger car.
It also hosts an online computing system that helps minimize energy consumption.
The plane is equipped with 10,000 solar cells to generate around 40 horsepower, "the same as a small motor scooter," Borschberg revealed in an interview in the aircraft's provisional hanger at Bourget aerodrome, where aviation enthusiasts from across the world have assembled for the biennial Paris Air Show.
The battery-stored energy of 40 horsepower is sufficient to fuel the featherweight aircraft up to a cruising altitude of around 10,000 metres (32,800 feet), where it can retain an average velocity of 70 kph (44 mph).
The Swiss pilot said the ambition of the Solar Impulse aircraft "is to show what is possible with existing technology to sustain the same standard of life but using much less energy."
The project is privately financed by pilot and the Swiss watchmaker Omega
Borschberg and the Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard had been working on the development of the aircraft since 2003. The development is completely private funded and holds a budget of around $129 million.
Borschberg and his partners are entertaining thoughts of developing another plane by 2013 to have a go at their next ambition: a solar-powered voyage around the world.
The solar impulse is sponsored by Omega, the Swiss watch manufacturer which also designed an exclusive flight device to accurately gauge the aircraft’s banking angle, which is firmly restricted.
If weather permitted, spectators at this year’s rainy Air Show might still get another chance to witness the Solar Impulse flying high over Paris before the Air week is over.