Solar Impulse HB-SIA Flies

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Solar Impulse, the aircraft that would fly around the world, day and night on solar power alone, Thursday saw its first successful test flight at the hands of test pilot Markus Scherdel. The “flea hop” was conducted at Dubendorf aerodrome in Switzerland. The aircraft flew at an altitude of about one meter and for a distance of about 350 meters (less than one quarter mile). Program initiator and Solar Impulse president, Bertrand Piccard, confessed that “it’s a long way between these initial tests and a circumnavigation of the world.” But the team now has controllability, acceleration, braking and motor power tests behind them. According to Andre Borschberg, co-founder and CEO of Solar Impulse, this “culmination of six years of intense work” has the team “ready to start the next phase — the actual flight tests.” So far, the aircraft, Solar Impulse HB-SIA, has performed without the benefit of its most essential asset — solar panels — which have not yet been connected.

Flight tests should begin in early 2010 at Payerne airfield in Switzerland, which means the Solar Impulse HB-SIA will now be dismantled and transported to that airfield where its first solar flight tests will be conducted. The plan is to gradually increase the flight duration toward the intermediate goal of flying through the night using stored solar energy. HB-SIA is “the size of an Airbus [a wingspan of more than 200 feet] with the weight of a mid-sized car [about 4,000 pounds],” says Borschberg.