Solar plane aims for pioneering day and night in the skies

An experimental aircraft, Solar Impulse, is set to take off from a Swiss airbase early Thursday on the first attempt to fly around the clock fuelled by nothing but the energy of the sun.

Solar Impulse is ultimately aiming for the aviator's dream of "perpetual flight" and to prove a point by flying through the night, said the venture's founder, the first balloonist to circumnavigate the globe, Bertrand Piccard.

"The great adventure of the 21st century is no longer to go to the moon, because that has already been done, it's about moving society bit by bit away from its dependence on fossil fuels," the Swiss adventurer claimed.

"Solar Impulse is a lot more than an aviation adventure, it's a demonstration of what this new technology can bring to society."

The single seater clad with solar panels, which weighs little more than a saloon car but bears the wingspan of an Airbus A340 airliner, has completed 10 test flights since it first hopped along a runway seven months ago.

Packed with cutting edge technology, the prototype's four sun-fuelled 10 horsepower electric motors have gently hauled it to high altitude, flying for hours on end.

Joint founder Andre Borschberg described a dawn flight on Tuesday as "totally cool" after a fright over the weekend when another test pilot felt vibrations as he stretched the plane to its limits.

The pioneering attempt is fraught. A 25-hour window of fine summer weather is needed from the moment the ultra lightweight plane takes off from Payerne airbase early on Thursday.

Former space shuttle astronaut Claude Nicollier said the most critical period would come overnight as daytime solar energy stored in batteries runs low and the team looks to the rising sun for a boost.

"We'll have very little energy and will have to make a decision on whether to continue or land," the flight test chief explained.

Another challenge will be keeping Borschberg alert for 24 hours.

"The plane demands a lot of attention, there's no autopilot. You can't snooze for a few minutes," Nicollier pointed out.

Nicollier and a retired NASA chief test pilot, Rogers Smith, will be among the multinational team guiding Borschberg gently to altitudes of up to 8,500 metres (27,900 feet) over Switzerland and eastern France at speeds of about 70 kilometres per hour (44 mph).

Eleven years ago Piccard felt that a mysterious "invisible hand" gave him and British teammate Brian Jones a lift just as their pioneering non-stop circumnavigation in the Orbiter balloon seemed doomed.

Today, little is being left to the supernatural as Solar Impulse tries to harness the forces of nature.

"As the person in charge of flight testing I try to introduce the techniques used in space flight, where safety is extremely important," said Nicollier.

Even Borschberg will be rigged up to sensors so that mission control can ensure he does not nod off.

Such experiences are not new for Piccard, who comes from a dynasty of technological pioneers and adventurers.

His grandfather Auguste set repeated altitude records in balloons in the 1920s and 1930s, and provided the model for Professor Calculus in the Tintin comic books.

Bertrand's father Jacques dived to the depths of the Marianas Trench in the Pacific Ocean in the bathyscaphe - a Piccard invention - with the help of the US Navy, setting a world record depth of 10,916 meters (35,800 feet).

Solar Impulse is in the same spirit.

"We are setting such ambitious targets that we will not necessarily succeed on the first attempt," Piccard cautioned.

Work will soon begin on a bigger version of the aircraft that is designed to fly across continents and around the world in 2013 or 2014.

"We're convinced that if an aircraft can fly day and night without fuel, no one can come along and say that it's impossible to use the same technology for cars, air conditioning, heating, computers and household appliances," said Piccard.

Link: http://www.solarimpulse.com/index.php

Arts and Entertainment
The teaser trailer has provoked more questions than answers
filmBut what is Bond's 'secret' that Moneypenny is talking about?
Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss