Solar Impulse First “Real” Flight Tops 3,000 Feet


The solar-powered aircraft Solar Impulse, which aims to fly around the world in 2012, was flown Wednesday over Switzerland by test pilot Markus Scherdel to an altitude of 1,200 meters (3,937 feet) in a successful test flight. The aircraft’s previous flight was limited to a 350-meter flight flown about one meter above the ground. On April 7, the 1600-kg aircraft stayed aloft for nearly 1.5 hours driven by four electric motors fueled (this time) by batteries alone. The motors generate a maximum output of 10 hp. The aircraft left the ground at about 28 knots, climbed to altitude and executed basic maneuvers designed to simulate the aircraft’s first approach. Scherdel said the aircraft “behaved just as the flight simulator told us” and “the aircraft’s controllability matches our expectations.” The project plans to see its first day-night flight this summer and hopes that flight will last a full 36 hours flown on solar and battery power. There will be more testing, first.

Prior to a night flight, Solar Impulse will see a series of flights of increasing distance and duration. The effort’s ultimate ambition is to fly the aircraft around the world on solar and battery power. The plan would see the flight made in a series of five hops flown in quick sequence, weather permitting. Led by Chairman Bertrand Piccard and CEO Andre Borschberg, the Solar Impulse project is as much of a demonstration of available technologies as it is a pursuit of a rapid transition to renewable energy sources, according to Piccard. Solar Impulse employs extensive use of carbon composites in its construction and has roughly 12,000 solar cells on its wings.