Solar Powered Plane Prepares for First International Flight

By Kieran Ball - 01 May 2011 13:54:0 GMT
Solar Powered Plane Prepares for First International Flight

The Associated Press and Reuters are reporting that Switzerland's experimental solar powered plane is ready for its first international flight.

'Solar Impulse' is set to take off from Payerne airport in Switzerland and make the flight to Brussels in Belgium powered only by the sun as soon as conditions are right after tomorrow (May 2nd).

It's a journey that poses significant risks as it means crossing international air traffic networks. The $123 million brainchild of Swiss adventurer, Bertrand Piccard has been operating test flights in Switzerland since 2009 and is now said to be ready for its inaugural international flight.

Previously, the single seated prototype, which has the wingspan of a Boeing 777, made history when it became the first solar powered plane of its type to fly 24 hours on solar power alone. Some 11,600 solar cells, situated on the wings, charge lithium batteries, which, in turn, power the engines.

A spokesman for the team said: 'Flying an aircraft like Solar Impulse through European airspace to land at an international airport is an incredible challenge for all of us, and success depends on the support we receive from all the authorities concerned.'

The Brussels Airport Blog quoted Arnaud Feist as saying: ''This airplane, the first to function without fossil fuel and without emitting CO2, symbolises magnificently the great efforts the aeronautical industry is making to develop new technologies for energy saving and increased used of renewable energies.''

After the historic flight, the plane will make a second international journey to be displayed at the 49th International Paris Air Show between June 20th and 26th.

With airline profits being hit by the rising cost of fuel due to unrest in the Middle East, all the eyes of the aviation industry will no doubt be focussed on this important aeronautic event. Clearly, we are still years away from the first commercial solar powered flights, but there is no doubt Solar Impulse will go down in history as a huge step in the right direction.

Image Credit: Solar Impulse & Brussels Airport.