I first told you about the Solar Impulse solar powered aircraft here, shortly after the project had completed a successful flight. I’m happy to say that the project is progressing as scheduled, with the team recently completing a 26 hour flight tto test the planes battery power for night flight.
Pilot André Borschberg took off from a Swiss airstrip at 7:00 AM local time. After climbing to the plane’s maximum ceiling of 28,097 feet, Borscchberg spent the day charging the planes lithium ion batteries via the 12,000 solar cells atop the aircraft’s wings. By nightfall, the batteries were fully charged and Borschberg spent the night slowing descending from maximum altitude.
The flight wasn’t without difficulty, since cold temperatures at altitude froze Borschberg’s water supply and drained the battery in his iPod. Aside from those minor glitches, everything else went as planned.
At sunrise on the second day, Borschberg monitored the recharging of the plane’s batteries, and the team concluded that the aircraft could have completed the cycle another day (with a fresh pilot, of course). In fact, it’s now the pilot that poses the greatest limiting factor, as the Solar Impulse could, in theory at least, stay aloft indefinitely.
It’s not a fast aircraft, averaging only 26 miles per hour on this record flight. It can’t haul passengers or cargo, since light weight is key to the aircraft’s success. With a wingspan wider than a Boing 777, it’s not likely to go into commercial production any time soon. None of that really matters, since the focus of the Solar Impulse is to draw attention to renewable and environmentally friendly energy sources. I’d say they’re doing a good job so far, and wish the team continued success with the Solar Impulse project.