Circumnavigation enthusiasts and sun worshippers will finally have a reason to shake their tan and travel-weary hands with one another if the Solar Impulse is to be believed. The French-built HB-SIB solar-powered plane is attempting the world's first sun-powered earth loop some time in 2012 and test runs of the massive eco bird are currently underway. We covered the Solar Impulse in Episode 2.3 of Translogic
The wide plane appears from a distance to be a glider but actually carries four twin-blade propellers on the front of its wings. Producing 10 horsepower each (roughly the power output of the Wright brothers' Flyer I, by the way), the props are fed power from batteries that gulp sunrays from 12,000 photovoltaic cells, all controlled through an on-board computing system. The wingspan -- 208 feet, about the width of an Airbus A340 airplane -- is filled to the brim with the solar cells and for good reason. The plane needs to conserve all the sunlight it can during the day so that it remains airborne at night.
The project -- championed by by Bertrand Piccard, the first man to fly around the earth in a balloon non-stop -- is still in its prototype phases but all signs are go for a 2012 flight. If the design holds through test phases, the HB-SIB would only stop to change pilots every three or four days, never needing to refuel and completing the journey in under a week. The route is planned near the equator but mostly in the northern hemisphere.
The prototype has not yet attempted a night flight, but tests start in July. Daunting? Yes. Dangerous? Extremely. Revolutionary? It just might be. To all of the naysayers out there, those working on the Solar Impulse Project have this to say, taken directly from Jules Verne himself, "All that is impossible remains to be achieved."
Check out the Solar Impulse Website here.