Solar Impulse Aces 1st Flight
DÜBENDORF AIRFIELD, Switzerland, Dec. 3, 2009 – The first airplane designed to fly day and night without fuel, the Solar Impulse HB-SIA, left the ground for the first time today.
The results of the ground tests conducted over the past few weeks to verify numerous parameters (the prototype’s controllability, acceleration, braking paths and engine power) had been overwhelmingly positive. As a result, the team gave Markus Scherdel, the test pilot, the go-ahead to take the prototype up to its takeoff speed.
As the aircraft gently took up speed, its huge wing gradually rose into the air as the project’s promoters, Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, gazed at it with intense admiration. After roughly 1150 feet of flight at an altitude of just over 3 ft, the prototype graciously landed on the center of the runway, triggering a frenzied applause from the team.
The Solar Impulse takes flight for the first time at Dübendorf Airfield in Switzerland. (Image: Solar Impulse)
“On the one hand, I find it terrific to see a dream come true. For over 10 years now, I have dreamt of a solar aircraft capable of flying day and night without fuel – and promoting renewable energy,” said Piccard, initiator and president of Solar Impulse. “Today, our plane took off and was airborne for the very first time. This is an unbelievable and unforgettable moment. On the other hand, I remain humble in the face of the difficult journey still to be accomplished – it’s a long way between these initial tests and a circumnavigation of the world.”
“This is the culmination of six years of intense work by a very experienced team of professionals. This first ‘flea hop’ successfully completes the first phase of Solar Impulse, confirming our technical choices. We are now ready to start the next phase – the actual flight tests,” said Borschberg, co-founder and CEO of Solar Impulse.
At this stage, the solar panels have not yet been connected. With the positive conclusion of this initial test, the Solar Impulse HB-SIA now will be dismantled and transported to the airfield at Payerne, Switzerland. Starting in early 2010, the aircraft will be making its first solar test flights, gradually increasing flight duration until it makes its first night flight using solar energy.
After a six-year effort, due largely in part to project partners Solvay, Omega and Deutsche Bank, Piccard and Borschberg believe that their breakthrough design will prove the business viability and profitability of renewable energy.
The airplane incorporates composite materials to keep it extremely light and uses superefficient solar cells, batteries, motors and propellers to get it through the dark hours.
Despite a wingspan equal to that of a Boeing 747-400 plane, the Solar Impulse weighs about the same as an average car – 1.7 tons. More than 12,000 solar cells are mounted on the gliderlike wings, supplying renewable solar energy to the four 10-horsepower electric motors. The solar panels charge the plane’s lithium polymer batteries during the day, allowing it to fly at night.
For more information, visit: www.solarimpulse.com
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