Solar Impulse pilots review aircraft's clean technology

June 18, 2013

Solar ImpulseSolar Impulse pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg used their arrival at the National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center outside Washington, D.C., to tout the solar technology on display in the aircraft.

At a media event June 17, Piccard called the Dulles event the most important morning of the entire trip. "In the past, protection of the environment was expensive and boring, and there was no way to bring industry and environmental concerns together," said Piccard. "There was no solution for decades until startups started working on clean technology."

Now there are clean technologies that can reduce energy consumption and bring jobs that grow and protect the environment, said Piccard. "But the Solar Impulse does all that. We're about flying with no fuel and continue a history of aviation innovation by demonstrating what clean technology can do today," he said. "The solar batteries and light aircraft structure could be used for other energy consumption needs."

Too many people are still stuck with the old ways of doing things but, there are not enough pioneers, said Piccard. "We need pioneers to stimulate the economy, growth, and industry by getting technology out of labs and to the consumer," he said. "This is why [the] role of government is so important to get people to leave their old patterns of thinking and become pioneers in clean energy. And we have an aircraft that shows [it is] possible with the Solar Impulse."

Solar ImpulseBorschberg noted that the Solar Impulse has the wingspan of a Boeing 747, the weight of a small car, and 12,000 solar cells on its wing, which promotes efficiency. "Ten years ago, we talked to aircraft manufacturers and said what we wanted to build and asked 'can you do it?'" he said. "They told us it was impossible, but we felt there was a solution, so we set up a team that designed and invented the shape, the weight, and what technology to use."

The Solar Impulse team is made up of  80 companies—including semiconductors, insurance, and watch design—that don’t come from the aviation world as partners, said Borschberg.  

The media event for the Solar Impulse ended with pilots Piccard and Borschberg being given the 2013 Innovators of the Year award by the Solar Energy Industries Association in recognition of the first-ever intercontinental flight by a solar-powered airplane.

Benét Wilson

Benét J. Wilson | AOPA eNewsletter and Social Media Editor

AOPA eNewsletter and Social Media Editor Benét J. Wilson joined AOPA in 2011. She is working on her private pilot certificate.