Breathtaking! First Crossing of the Alps by a Solar Plane

solar plane over alps photo
A Big First for a Solar Aircraft!
We recently wrote about the Sunseeker II solar plane (see that post for more details). Well, they did it! "99 years after the first crossing of the Alps in an airplane by Geo Chávez flying a Blériot XI, Eric Raymond completed the first crossing of the Alps made by a solar airplane! 'The most scenic flight of my life,' as he put it, also had its intense moments. After the flight, he recounted the adventure."alps crossing map image

From Solar Flight, here's how Eric Raymond describes his historic flight:

"It was one of the most difficult things that I have ever done, but it was also the most beautiful flight I have ever made. It was very cloudy, but after fighting to gain altitude I got over the clouds and cruised on direct solar power, eventually climbing to 13,700 ft. It was amazing to see the peaks of the mountains coming up through the clouds. I could clearly see the Matterhorn and Mt Blanc over the clouds. I could not see anything in the direction of Italy, except a solid wall of clouds. I tried to climb over them on course for Torino, but I had to fly between towering cumulonimbus clouds. I was in bright sun, when I noticed that I was flying through large snowflakes. That was the first sign of trouble. Soon I was trapped over these rising clouds, with my escape closed off. I was climbing at full power, but the clouds were rising faster. It was snowing on me, even though I was in the sun! Desperately flying around in my shrinking trap I found a small hole, where I could see the ground. Just snow and trees. I turned off the motor, set the airbrakes, and spiraled down 7000 ft, until I was just under the clouds. I wanted to take a picture of the snow, but
I couldn't take my hands from the controls. After feeling desperate about flying through clouds in a blinding snowstorm, I felt much better seeing that the clouds did not go all the way to the ground. I even flew with a sailplane and a paraglider, so I did not feel so alone. Because of the thunderstorms, I left the Alps early, and had a long crossing over the Italian flats. It seemed to take forever to get to Torino, but in reality the entire flight took less than 5.5 hours. TV crews were waiting, and we saw the story on the national news that night in our hotel, just before a nice dinner with our hosts, the organizers of the World Air Games 2009. We are now preparing to continue down the length of Italy, to Sicily."

solar plane over alps photo
solar plane over alps photo

This isn't quite a jumbo jet, but it's an important step to demonstrate the real-world viability of solar flight.

solar plane over alps photo

I personally would expect that commercial planes will switch to biofuels before they can be solar-powered, if only because the energy density required to move a much bigger and heavier plane probably can't be had from solar panels (at least not with current technology), but all the experience and know-how developed from these solar-planes will no doubt be useful. This is truly pioneering work, kudos!

Via Solar Flight
Thanks to Eric Lentz Gauthier!
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Sunseeker II Solar Airplane to Fly Over Europe this Spring
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