March 19, 2015

Flying Fuel Free: The Story of the Solar Plane

Citizens of Santa Clarita, what would it be like if airplanes had an unlimited amount of fuel? What if planes never had to take time to refuel or worry about running low on long journeys? What if planes were outfitted with SunPower solar panels and were powered completely by the sun?

It certainly would be convenient. It would take much less time and money for airlines to operate. Solar powered planes would allow more frequent, smoother, and perhaps even safer flights. Our carbon footprint would be immensely reduced as well.

Though these speculations sound a little too good to be true or perhaps even impossible, this technology is becoming a reality. This past week, on March 9th 2015, the Solar Impulse 2, “the only airplane of perpetual endurance, able to fly day and night on solar power” alone, took off from Abu Dhabi.

It was set to fly 400 kilometers for an estimated 12 hours (2,1). The BBC reported the successful landing and finish to the first leg of the Solar Impulse’s journey at 16:14 GMT on March 9th (4). The plane is set to travel all the way around the world in twelve total flights, which are being meticulously recorded on the Solar Impulse website (1).

The plane making this trip, the Solar Impulse 2, is the second (hence “2”) iteration of this completely sun-powered plane. Made of light, aerodynamic carbon fiber, the aircraft weighs about as much as the average car and only seats one. The Solar Impulse 2 has “a 72 meter wingspan” which is comparatively larger than the Boeing 747-8I’s 60 meter wingspan (1,3).

These wings are covered in “17,000 solar cells” which power “four electric motors” with solar energy (1). These solar cells were built using SunPower’s patented MaxeonTM technology, for increased efficiency and durability. This ingenious design allows the SunPower solar cells on the wings to charge the batteries which enable the Impulse to fly even when the sun is not shining.

The great minds behind this groundbreaking endeavor at Solar Impulse are seeking to push the boundaries of aviation and preservation. After twelve years of hard work, research and development, the team’s dream of bringing completely clean and renewable flight and adventure to the world is quickly becoming a reality.



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