Solar Impulse is a Swiss long-range solar-powered aircraft project. It is led by a Swiss psychiatrist and aeronaut Bertrand Piccard, who co-piloted the first balloon to circle the world non-stop, and a Swiss businessman André Borschberg.
For the first time in history, an airplane has succeeded in flying night and day without fuel, powered by nothing but solar energy. Record-breaking flights across Europe, the Mediterranean Sea and the United States brought worldwide attention to the Solar Impulse endeavor, launched by Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, proving the enormous potential of clean technologies to protect the natural resources of our planet, and the importance of pioneering spirit to create a brighter future.
- Crew: 1
- Length: 21.85 m (71.7 ft)
- Wingspan: 63.4 m (208 ft)
- Height: 6.40 m (21.0 ft)
- Wing area: 11,628 photovoltaic cells rated at 45 kW peak: 200 m2 (2,200 sq ft)
- Aspect ratio: 19.7
- Loaded weight: 1,600 kg (3,500 lb)
- Max. takeoff weight: 2,000 kg (4,400 lb)
- Powerplant: 4 × electric motors, 4 x 21 kWh lithium-ion batteries (450 kg), providing 7.5 kW (10 HP) each
- Propeller diameter: 3.5 m at 200 to 400 rpm (11 ft)
- Take-off speed: 35 kilometres per hour (22 mph)
- Cruise speed: 70 kilometres per hour (43 mph)
- Endurance: 36 hours (projected)
- Service ceiling: 8,500 m (27,900 ft) with a maximum altitude of 12,000 metres (39,000 ft)
A guided tour of the solar plane
“An aeroplane like this is absolutely unique. And for the first time in history, we have an aeroplane that is flying with no fuel day and night, showing the incredible potential of the clean technologies – all these technologies that the world can also use in order to reduce the dependency to fossil fuel and to be cleaner and solve a lot of problems of pollution.”
The carbon-fibre aircraft has a huge wingspan, which at 72m is wider than a Boeing 747 jet. And yet, the vehicle weighs only 2.3 tonnes.
The tops of the wings are covered by 17,000 solar cells, which drive four brushless electric motors at speeds of up to 140km/h (90mph).
During the day, the solar cells will recharge lithium batteries, which can then be used to keep the plane’s propellers turning through the night.
It’s a great day for all the team of Solar Impulse.
The first Solar Impulse plane set a number of world records, including the longest manned solar-powered flight at 26 hours, the first inter-continental flight in a solar-powered plane, and the greatest distance covered on a piloted solar-powered flight. (Autonomous solar-powered drones can stay aloft for weeks).
That last record was set during Piccard’s and Borschberg’s epic TransAmerica journey in May, June and July last year.
But as challenging as that effort was, it will be dwarfed by the difficulty and complexity of completing a global flight.
This is because it will have to include passage across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The latter could take all of five days and nights to complete.
Only one pilot can fit in the cockpit. It has a reclining seat to make room for exercising and to permit Piccard and Borschberg, whoever is at the controls, to take short catnaps.