One of the knocks you hear against solar energy is that the sun doesn't always shine. While true, that seemingly inconvenient fact didn't stop the Swiss team behind the Solar Impulse HB-SIA from attempting to fly their super-size, super-light aircraft for over 24 hours powered by only by photonic goodness. In achieving their goal, not only did they set the record for longest solar flight at 26 hours and nine minutes, they also broke the record for altitude – 8,564 meters (28,097 feet) above sea level.
Perhaps just as amazing, they managed to land with more energy in their lithium battery pack than they started with. Piloted by Andre Borschberg, the 3,500 lb. carbon fiber flying machine hit speeds of 68 knots (78.25 miles per hour), though its average speed was 23 knots (26.47 mph). It employed four motors and gathered the energy to run them from 20 percent efficient mono-crystalline solar cells along its 193-foot wings.
Just like electric cars, the team says the element limiting electric aircraft performance is the energy density limitations of modern batteries. That technical hindrance isn't stopping them from starting their next project – a plane to make a trans-Atlantic flight before attempting a circumnavigation of the planet in 2012. Hit the jump for video of the Solar Impulse in flight and on the ground with its very excited team.
[Source: Reuters / Solar Impulse]