Solar Impulse Moves Forward, Literally

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Solar Impulse, the manned aircraft that will attempt to travel nonstop around the world flying day and night on solar energy alone, moved under its own power for the first time last week. The carbon-fiber aircraft was propelled by its own four motors (not at full power) over approximately 2 km at speeds no greater than about 10 knots, but the team was “very excited” about the tests, according to BBC News. It’s an airplane that’s “the size [a wingspan of more than 200 feet] of an Airbus and the weight [about 4,000 pounds] of a mid-sized car,” Solar Impulse Chief Executive Andre Borschberg said. Special precautions were taken for the initial ground taxi testing. An additional undercarriage was placed under the cabin as an extra safeguard in case the aircraft’s regular undercarriage unexpectedly failed. The taxi test took place at the aircraft’s home at Dubendorf aerodrome in Switzerland where, in about two weeks, team leaders hope it will take a first hop. Then, after flying just a few meters over the runway to prove its flight characteristics, the real tests will begin.

If the crow hop goes well, the aircraft will be disassembled and taken to Payerne air force base in western Switzerland where the first flight tests will begin. The original Solar Impulse project plan actually calls for two aircraft to be built. The first will perform flight tests with hope for a first night flight in 2010. The second aircraft will be developed to attempt fly several 24-hour cycles consecutively. If successful, the project would see a first trans-Atlantic flight in 2012, leading to the round-the-world flight.