June 4, 2013
By Alton K. Marsh
There was a moment on the flight of the solar-cell and battery-powered Solar Impulse when Swiss pilot Bertrand Piccard thought clouds might rob his aircraft of power. Without sun, the batteries can’t be recharged. The concern was short-lived as Piccard and his controllers back in Payerne, Switzerland, realized the solar cells were getting plenty of sun through a high thin overcast.
Solar Impulse reached St Louis well after 1 a.m. St. Louis time on June 4, powered in the dark by charged batteries designed to last through the night as the aircraft gently descends. Battery power is sufficient for the takeoff. The next stop is Washington, D.C., a flight that could come as early as next week. The goal of the project is to demonstrate renewable energy to the world, not to develop a solar-powered airliner.
During an air-to-ground conversation with one of the designers of the aircraft, Piccard said Americans don’t respond to pleas to save the flowers and trees. They want to know the practical uses of solar energy, and they want to make money from it, Piccard said. The group used radio interviews from the air to stimulate public interest in the flight. Piccard could be seen in the cockpit during a live feed from the Solar Impulse website.
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.
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