The aerospace industry is taking a step forward towards sustainable and energy-efficient flight. Switzerland’s Solar Impulse 2 (Si2) marks one of the first solar panel operated aircraft
. Based on the HB-SIA prototype, the Si2 spans 236 ft. and weighs 5,070 lbs. This light-weight frame was made possible by the 0.07 oz./sq. ft. carbon fiber and honeycomb material.
The solar panels are composed on 17,248 monocrystalline silicon solar cells, which allows electricity to be stored in 1,395 lbs. of lithium-polymer batteries. The four 17.4-hp motors run propellers at 525-rpm through the use of reduction gears. The Si2’s overall solar efficiency is recorded at a stunning 94%.
Flight is expected to take off at Abu Dhabi, making its appearance worldwide as a creative reminder for people to recycle and reduce their carbon footprint. Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, co-founders of Solar Impulse, will be flying the plane for 24 flight hours in a five month time period. They will make stops in Oman, India, Myanmar, China, Hawaii, United States, Southern Europe, and North Africa, eventually landing back in Abu Dhabi. The cockpit will be unheated and unpressurized; thus, they will fly at a lower height of 28,000 ft. during the day and even lower at 5,000 ft. at night to conserve energy and maintain oxygen in the aircraft.
The unique operating system allows the pilots to take constant breaks during flight, with a vibrating alert system to notify the pilot if the plane faces turbulence. Furthermore, the Solar Impulse mission control center
(MCC), located in Monaco, also helps control departures and monitor routes. Other energy-efficient aircraft are in the works, such as the Sun Flyer solar-electric training aircraft and the Sunseeker Duo. A recent study done by Boeing for NASA shows the positives of rechargeable batteries on aircraft—showing a promising future for flight travel.
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