Solar Impulse HB-SIA Solar-Powered Plane Takes to the Sky
On April 7, a sleek flying craft with a 208-foot wingspan took to the sky above Switzerland. It was the inaugural flight of the Solar Impulse HB-SIA, a solar-powered plane that just might be the first aircraft to eventually make a zero-emission flight around the world.
Powered by four electric engines drawing energy from almost 12,000 silicon mono-crystalline solar cells located on the craft’s wings and horizontal stabilizer, the Solar Impulse reached just under 4,000 feet. A pilot working with minimal instrumentation and in an unpressurized cabin guided the plane through a series of test maneuvers during the 87-minute flight.
The successful test flight of the HB-SIA leads to the next step, which is a 36-hour flight. The trip would involve night flying and require the use of lithium-polymer batteries. If all goes well, a second aircraft called the HB-SIB will be built. This aircraft is slated to attempt a trans-Atlantic crossing in 2012.
The Solar Impulse HB-SIA is the result of a combined effort between Solar Impulse company chairman and co-founder Bernard Piccard and an international team of mutli-disciplinary scientists. Piccard was the first person to pilot a balloon non-stop around the world. Perhaps, someday, a Solar Impulse pilot will do the same.