Here at PRV Engineering we have always kept a keen eye on developments in the aerospace industry.
Therefore, it was with great interest when recently, we read about the first attempt to circumnavigate the globe in an aircraft powered entirely by the sun.
After 12 years of research and testing, the Swiss engineering team Solar Impulse has unveiled the craft that will undertake the mission, next year.
Having already demonstrated the ability to fly non-stop for 24 hours in their first solar powered aircraft, engineer Andre Borschberg and psychiatrist Bertrand Piccard have unveiled a second, more efficient single-seater craft that will enable them to take turns flying for up to five consecutive days and nights at a time — including flights over the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
With a wingspan of 72 meters, the solar powered aircraft – Solar Impulse 2 – is slightly larger than a Boeing 747, but tips the scales at a mere 2,300kg. Almost a third of its weight is taken up by the batteries to store the energy harvested by the 17,248 solar cells, spread across its massive wings.
The four 17.5hp electric motors that will power the craft’s propellers account for much of the rest of Solar Impulse’s weight.
As Piccard confirmed, this leaves precious little room for luxuries in the solar powered aircraft. The pilot will sit in the single reclinable seat (which doubles as a toilet) in a 3.8 cubic metre cabin without heating or air conditioning.
Borschberg said; “The cabin will experience temperatures ranging from 40°C to -40°C and as the plane is capable of flying indefinitely under its own power, human frailty is the biggest handicap.
“Solar Impulse 2 will have virtually unlimited autonomy, and now we need to make sure the pilot is as sustainable as his aircraft. This is why the round-the-world flight will be as much a human as a technological feat.”
The aircraft will undergo final tweaking before setting off next March. It will fly from the Middle East to India and then China. After crossing the Pacific – the longest leg of the flight – the aircraft will cross the US and the Atlantic before swooping through southern Europe back to its starting point.
The project has certainly created terrific intrigue throughout the aerospace industry and it will be fascinating to see the results.
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