Solar Planes, Greening the Blue Skies

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By Jody McCutcheon

Introducing the HB-SIA solar aircraft, better known as the “Solar Impulse,” the world’s first plane that can fly without fuel day and night, and a stratospheric leap toward emission-free flying.

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Pioneered by Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, the craft boasts four brushless, sensorless electric engines, each of which produces 10hp. The plane also receives an average of 8hp (6kW) from the two hundred square metres of photovoltaic cells covering the wings. The 63-metre wingspan (approximating that of an Airbus A340) is home to almost 11,000 monocrystalline silicon solar cells. All together, the Solar Impulse generates about the same amount of energy as a motor scooter, with a takeoff speed of 44km/h and an average flying speed of 70km/h. Employing a carbon fibre body, the craft weighs 1600kg, about the same as a station wagon.


A Swiss initiative, the Solar Impulse already holds several aviation records, including that of longest manned solar-powered flight (26 hours), and first international and inter-continental flights of a manned solar-powered aircraft.

Currently the plane is crossing the US in stages. The journey began May 3rd, when Piccard embarked from Moffett Airfield just outside of San Francisco, and will end in early July, with Borschberg landing at JFK Airport in New York City. The coast-to-coast mission symbolizes the launch of a movement called “Clean Generation,” which is soliciting governments, businesses and decision-makers worldwide to promote clean technologies and sustainable energy.


The movement is necessary now more than ever–with the rapid expansion of air travel comes added aviation pollution, which itself is currently to blame for about 5% of the total warming effect of the world’s greenhouse emissions(1). In this regard, the Solar Impulse is a spectacular blueprint for change, and further evidence that there’s no ceiling for human ingenuity.

Jody McCutcheon
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