A Flight Fueled by the Sun
Swiss pilot Bertrand Piccard sets a new record for solar-powered flight
Solar Impulse’s flight from Spain to Morocco took 19 hours.
Last Tuesday, a Swiss pilot made history in a new kind of airplane. After taking off from Madrid, Spain, and spending 19 hours in the air, Bertrand Piccard landed in Rabat, the capital of Morocco, in northern Africa. The flight marked the first transcontinental (cross-continent) trip by a solar-powered airplane.
Solar power is energy from the sun that has been converted into electricity. It is a form of renewable energy. This type of energy comes from resources that will not run out—like sunlight, wind, and water. Solar energy is also considered “clean”–meaning it doesn’t create pollution. By contrast, fossil fuels like coal and oil create pollution when they are burned to produce power. And they are nonrenewable resources, meaning humans may eventually use up the world’s supply.
The plane, Solar Impulse, has a wingspan of 208 feet. (This is about the same as the wingspan of a Boeing 777, a plane often used by airlines.) Solar Impulse’s wings carry 12,000 solar cells that absorb sunlight and turn it into electricity. However, the plane weighs only as much as a family car.
Piccard is an adventurer who once flew around the world in a hot-air balloon. In 2003, he began work on the Solar Impulse project by gathering teams of engineers and companies to provide funding. In 2009, they finished building the plane and it flew for the first time in June of that year.
A PLANE OF THE FUTURE
Solar Impulse can fly both during daytime and at night (using batteries). But the plane can operate only in perfect weather conditions. Additionally, it currently flies at an average speed of only 44 miles per hour. Most commercial airliners can fly at 10 times that speed.
Still, this first transcontinental flight is a milestone in the quest for technology using clean energy. The plane’s developers are currently planning a world tour for Solar Impulse in 2013.
Piccard was very pleased with the results of the flight. “It was perhaps the most beautiful flight of my life,” he tells the Associated Press. “I have dreamed since I was a child of flying without using fuel.”