Here we go!Solar Impulse 2, a solar-powered ultralight plane with a bigger wingspan than a Boeing 747 (see below), took off from Abu Dhabi earlier today with the ambitious goal of flying around the world on just solar power. This would be an historic achievement, and show how much progress has been made in the field of solar aviation. Piloting the solar plane during the first leg of the trip is Swiss pilot Andre Borschberg, the project’s founder.
"It is also exciting because you know, you simulate, you calculate, you imagine, but there is nothing like testing and doing it in real," Borschberg said just hours before takeoff. "I am sure we are all confident and hopefully we will be able to see each other here in five months."
Update: The solar plane has arrived in India.
"Solar Impulse took off at 7.12am (03:12UTC) for its first flight from Abu Dhabi (Al Bateen Executive Airport, AZI/OMAD) in the United Arab Emirates, to Muscat (Muscat International Airport, MCT/OOMS) in the Sultanate of Oman. André Borschberg will fly the zero-fuel airplane on about 400km (215NM) for an estimated time of 12 hours."
You can even see the real-time position of the plane on a map:
The plan is to fly about 21,000 miles over 4-5 months, crossing India, China, the Pacific to the U.S., and then back to Abu Dhabi over the Atlantic. "The aviators will need to fly non-stop for five or six days on oceanic legs, stuffed in a tiny cabin traveling as high as 27,000 feet at 30 to 60 miles per hour," reports Bloomberg. To manage the difficult task, the pilots have been training with yoga and self-hypnosis.
The top part of Solar Impulse 2 has 17,248 very efficient solar cells. They are used to power the 4 electric motors that spin the plane's propellers. There are also 4 lithium-polymer batteries that store power overnight. Getting sunlight during the day shouldn't be a problem since the plane will mostly be above the clouds (except during the ascending and descending phases after and before takeoff and landing, of course).
While Solar Impulse 2's wingspan is impressive, it's weight (or lack of it) is just as impressive. Its wings are larger than a jumbo jet, but it only has a weight similar to a minivan (2,300 kilograms). A Boeing 747, by comparison, is closer to 180,000kg when empty...
Below is a video showing the maiden flight of the Solar Impulse 2, which took place on June second in Switzerland. The solar plane stayed in the air for 2 hours 17 minutes!
Via Solar Impulse