Solar-powered airplane rolls out

June 30, 2009

Solar Used by permission. Copyright Solar Impulse/EVFL Claudio Leonardi

A follow on to the Solar Impulse electric airplane that rolled out in Switzerland in June may circle the world in 2012. The development model, unveiled by Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, will fly at the end of 2009 and gather data for the final model. It can fly both night and day using batteries and solar power.

Piccard, a psychiatrist, made the first round-the-world flight by balloon, and Borschberg is an airplane and helicopter pilot with management experience. The model just unveiled carries only one pilot. The four-electric-motor aircraft must become light enough during further development to carry two pilots if a trip around the world made in segments lasting four to five days each is to succeed. The idea is to push the science needed to accomplish the goal.

Helping with that is a large chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturer, Solvay, the Omega watch company, and Deutsche Bank. Solvay has designed the cockpit and many of the parts for the aircraft using lightweight polymers. The unveiling in late June occurred near Zurich before 200 international press representatives and hundreds more watching on the Internet including 60 people in China.

Al Marsh

Alton K. Marsh | "AOPA Pilot" Senior Editor, AOPA

AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Alton Marsh has been a pilot since 1970 and has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates, aerobatic training, and a commercial seaplane certificate.