On average, each 10-horsepower motor only has 6 kW of electricity at its disposal, roughly the same as the Wright Brothers had on their first flight. Despite the plane's size, the pilot only has 1.3 cubic meters of space in the cockpit that can go from freezing to sweltering over the course of a flight.
"The project was, of course, about building an aircraft, but it was more about saving energy," said Borschberg, speaking last week at the Swiss Embassy in Washington, D.C. "The power we can use is the power of a scooter."
The dynamics of flight make all these compromises necessary, but the HB-SIA has already posted some impressive results. The Solar Impulse team set a flight record with 26 hours, 10 minutes, 19 seconds aloft, spanning day and night. Next summer, they plan to fly from San Francisco to New York City with a stopover in Washington, D.C.
The team also wants to build a bigger plane that can fly for five to six days at a time. With this aircraft, Borschberg and Piccard will attempt to fly around the world in 2015, taking turns at the controls.
The PlanetSolar and Solar Impulse teams acknowledge that these feats do not translate directly into new paradigms and it may be some time before photovoltaic panels are commonly seen on wings and decks. "We do not believe that you can just put solar cells on a boat and it will work," de Puechredon said. However, with current technologies and these proofs of concept, "we don't need to wait another 15 years to fly around the world."
Piccard echoed this sentiment. "What is important is to show that we can go from the dream to reality," he said. He noted that the first gliders were made from cloth and wood, technology that was available to the Babylonians; all that was lacking was the will to make one. For that reason, when faced with the possibility of large-scale renewable transportation, Piccard said, "it would be crazy to answer 'yes' and stupid to answer 'no.'"
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500