Solar power is undoubtedly one of the most renown forms of renewable energy but its application into the public and private sectors has been slow until recently. But new developments in technology have led to the flight of planes powered by solar energy. Solar Impulse 2 is the name of the latest aircraft prototype fitted with cutting edge technology making it one of a kind which recently concluded its maiden flight.
The Solar Impulse team was formed in 2012 with the goal of making the first solar powered plane to circumnavigate the globe. Currently their best estimate on attempting this feat is scheduled to take place in 2015 after further testing is conducted. The inaugural flight lasted 2 hours which took off from Payerne, Switzerland. The pilot took the plane up to 6,000 ft. and tested the flight mechanics and maneuverability, most of which performed remarkably similar to expected predictions.
One of the most notable features in the Solar Impulse 2 is the fact that it does not carry any fuel making it the first of its kind in an industry that will likely see exponential growth in the coming decades. Built primarily from carbon-fiber, the aircraft weights about 2.3 tons yet exceeds the wingspan of a Boeing 747 by 236 feet, this massive wingspan is needed for the 17,000 solar cells that power the aircraft. Lithiium-ion batteries allow the plane to store solar energy captured during the day to power the plane’s engines at night.
The Solar Impulse 2 may not provide the most ideal conditions for traversing the globe however, only 1 person can fit in the cockpit which contains a reclining seat that can allow the pilot to stretch, exercise and take quick naps. Previous planes by Solar Impulse have acquired a number of records during transcontinental flight including the longest flight time of a solar powered plane however conducting transatlantic and transpacific flights will prove to be much more difficult to perfect.