Prototype Solar Plane's First Test Flight a Success


Photo via BBC
Solar Plane Nearly Ready for Flight Around the World
A solar plane prototype has successfully completed its first full test flight, clearing the way for a larger scale model to begin production--a larger scale model that may very well become the first plane to fly around the world powered entirely by the sun. There are still some unanswered questions about whether the plane is capable of such large scale flight. But the success of such a feat would be quite a hallmark--not just for the inventors of the plane, but for solar power in general.The BBC has more on the story:
The Solar Impulse, with a wingspan similar to that of a super-jumbo jet but weighing the same as a saloon car, took off from a Swiss airfield.

The plane's wings are covered by solar cells which power four electric motors.

Its designers hope a slightly larger production model will circumnavigate the globe in two years' time.

I know what you're probably going to ask--WTF is a saloon car? Turns out it's what British people call sedans. Cultural differences are funny!

Seriously, however, that's a pretty big vehicle for weighing as much as a Camry. And it turns out that those are precisely the issues--concerning its lightness--this test flight was intended to deal with. The flight team noted in a statement that "With such a large and light plane never having flown before, the aircraft's flight behaviour remains unexplored."

Now, the reason this story is (a tad) more important than the pile of other 'cool science' stories that we all forward around the intertubes is because it showcases the versatility of solar power, which, believe it or not, could still benefit hugely from some exposure and positive PR.

Though many people already recognize solar power as one of the major energy solutions for a future clean energy economy, there are droves who remain unconvinced. So while at leas one of the guys who'll be flying the plane (there will be two of them) may be doing it for the daredevil factor and the notoriety (he's the same fella who took a hot air balloon around the world), it will actually double as a meaningful feat of strength for solar power. If successful, it will shine the spotlight on solar--even the most die hard fossil fuel lovers will have to admit a fuel-free flight around the world is pretty effing cool.

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