First solar-powered plane lands at Dulles Airport
Times-Mirror Staff Photo/Beverly Denny
The Solar Impulse solar-powered airplane is almost as wide as a Boeing 747 with a 208-foot wingspan but has the weight of a small car. The crew and public officials held a news conference June 17 at the Udvar-Hazy Center about its 2013 Across America mission.
Wed., Jun. 19 by
By Michael Carter, Times-Mirror Staff Writer
Since its beginning, the aviation industry has overcome incredible obstacles, but the development of an airplane that can fly perpetually, without refueling, is one of the most daunting. But now, the Solar Impulse plane, developed by Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, has flown across the country, taking off in San Francisco and landing at Dulles Airport on June 16, powered entirely by the sun.
The intention in developing Solar Impulse and flying it across the country was more about inspiring progress than revolutionizing transportation. The plane, while capable of flying long distances, can only carry a pilot without becoming too heavy.
"[Solar Impulse] is mainly about demonstrating what clean technologies can do today," said Piccard. "If the technologies of Solar Impulse were massively used today we could already divide by two the energy consumption of humankind."
The project is part of an initiative to gain support for clean technology. Piccard and Borschberg presented a flag that says "Clean Generation" to the governor of each state the plane landed in. At the D.C. stop, the flag was presented to Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz.
"A lot of people are going to be surprised 10 years from now at where solar is and not only in standard applications, but in applications we don't know yet," said Moniz.
Rhone Resch, president of Solar Energy Industries Association and a leader in the push for progress in energy efficiency, praised the combination of solar energy and battery storage used on the plane.
"This is something that has never been done before. This is an application that is going to change the world - energy storage combined with solar energy," said Resch.
While Solar Impulse is an incredible innovation in terms of energy efficiency, compared to its fuel-consuming counterparts, it is not as sturdy.
Piccard said, "We start over again with an airplane that flies slowly, that is sensitive to turbulence, that has only one person on board - exactly like 100 years ago - but it has no fuel and flies forever."
Though the central challenge of the trip was engineering the light-weight, carbon-fiber airplane, unexpected obstacles arose during the flight as well. In Cincinnati, fog condensed on the plane and filled it with water.
"We almost thought we had to ground the airplane and not have the possibility to bring it to Washington, D.C. It was really tense and the emotional level was very high," said Borschberg.
"I think it was the most stressful moment in our mission across America," said Piccard.
Piccard and Borschberg were eventually able to clean and dry the plane and get it safely to D.C.
The final leg of Piccard and Borschberg's trip will lead them to New York. After that, they expand their scope. They hope to fly Solar Impulse around the world in 2015.