Last Tuesday a solar energy plane flew from Europe to North Africa, completing the world’s first intercontinental flight powered by the sun.
The plane, the Solar Impulse, is a 100% solar-powered Swiss plane is derived from a project with the same name being undertaken at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. The single-seat aircraft is fitted with 12,000 solar cells across a wingspan of sixty-four metres, but only weighs as much as the average family car, according to organizers. It charges 400kg lithium polymer batteries during the day and can fly after dark on the power. The project, started in 2003, is led by Bertrand Piccard, who piloted the flight on Tuesday, along with André Borschberg.
The Solar Impulse took off from Madrid in Spain, before crossing the Mediterranean and landing in Morocco, after an almost 20-hour trip. It made its first international flight last month when it completed a 13-hour flight from the western Swiss town of Payern to Brussels.
The plane can only fly in perfect weather and has succeeded in climbing to 28,000 feet. With an average flying speed of 70 km/h, this doesn’t make it the perfect alternative for commercial jets. “The question is not to use solar power for normal aeroplanes,” Piccard told Sky News. “The question is more to demonstrate that we can achieve incredible goals, almost impossible goals, with new technologies, without fuel, just with solar energy, and raise awareness that if we can do it in the air, of course everybody can do it on the ground.”