Solar plane prototype finishes intercontinental flight, receives honor from green energy industry

Written By: Thatcher Michelsen July 19, 2012 0
The Solar Impulse relies on the sun's rays for its energy source. After completing its intercontinental journey, the designers of the craft hope to conduct a global circumnavigation sometime in the next three years.
The Solar Impulse relies on the sun's rays for its energy source. After completing its intercontinental journey, the designers of the craft hope to conduct a global circumnavigation sometime in the next three years.

The Solar Impulse, an experimental aircraft powered by the sun and piloted by Bertrand Piccard, touched down in Tolouse, France on July 17, foregoing the final leg of its journey to Switzerland due to rough weather conditions. However, the flight demonstrated that the prototype's concept, built from lightweight carbon fibers and designed to house a single occupant, could handle the occasionally bumpy ride.

To celebrate this achievement, Soluxe Solar, a Connecticut-based company that recognizes innovative developments in the clean energy field, awarded the group behind the Solar Impulse with its "Solar Flare" accreditation.

"The ability of the Solar Impulse to make this journey without fuel has tremendous, far reaching implications on the future of solar flight and what could now be possible," Soluxe Solar CEO Jeffrey Mayer said in a press release. "It is a significant achievement from a technological and environmental perspective and we felt the perfect honoree for this week's Solar Flare."

The next step for the Solar Impulse team is the creation of a new aircraft designed to circumnavigate the world. With the current model, HB-SIA, nearing the completion of its journey, engineers have been working on the HB-SIB since 2011. Improvements, according to the plane's website, include a larger cabin, increased storage capacity and moisture protection that will enable the craft to operate during rainstorms.

However, a recent incident at the Solar Impulse facility on July 5 involving a cracked wing spar rendered the prototype temporarily unusable. The original global flight planned for 2014 has been pushed back to 2015, following the assumed completion of successive stress tests.

The company expressed optimism on its website despite the accident, citing "stimulating brainstorming sessions" that followed soon after. As of now, engineers for the Solar Impulse project have returned to the workshop, doing their best to get this exciting project back off the ground.

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