A Solar-powered plane successfully completed its first full test, moving a step nearer to an attempt in 2012 to fly around the world.
The plane, which is called “The Solar Impulse”, has a wingspan close to the size of a jumbo jet, yet only weighs the same as an average car.
The test took place in Switzerland and was designed to check the plane’s ability compared with simulations.
Bertrand Piccard is leading the project and hopes to pilot the plane along with co-founder Andre Borschberg. Piccard is perhaps better known (along with Brian Jones) for being the first to complete a non-stop balloon flight around the globe. He comes from a family of balloonists.
Just like a fictional character with a similar name in Star Trek (Jean Luc Picard), Bertrand likes to go where no one has gone before!
The plane used in the test was only a prototype and a slightly larger plane will be used in the 2012 flight.
With the limitations on power produced by solar cells and the weight of electric motors, it is unlikely that this technology will have any benefit to commercial flights, at least not in the near future. However, this might have a more practical use in space.
Another concern might be the amount of sunlight available for such a craft, especially in places like Britain, although my brother (Nigel) has come up with a solution to this problem. As you will see from the image provided with this article, a sunbed has been attached above the plane 🙂
Whilst solar-powered vehicles (cars) may become available for public use in the years ahead, it is difficult to see planes powered in this way achieving anything but records. Hopefully, if solar cells can be made to produce a greater output (and more efficient batteries are invented), we may see these replacing the more usual electric supplies in our homes.
Unfortunately, cheaper and cleaner forms of energy will dramatically affect the profits of existing suppliers (gas, oil and electric), so you can expect to see a considerable amount of resistance from companies involved in these industries.
Governments have expressed a desire to reduce manmade pollution, but are reluctant to put too much pressure on the industries that help to finance them. As usual, it is the general public who has to make the most sacrifices, like having to use those awful energy saving bulbs! Of course, this does not apply to people like Al Gore, whose house uses more electric in one day than most of us use in a year. I bet he doesn’t sit at home straining his eyes with those stupid bulbs!