The Solar Impulse team is ready to begin ground testing of the Airbus-size solar airplane at Dubendorf Airfield, near Zurich, Switzerland. On October 19, the project’s engineering team handed the craft over to the flight test crew, headed by Swiss Astronaut Claude Nicollier. First flights will be under the control of Markus Scherdel, a professional test pilot and aerodynamics engineer. Testing is scheduled, subject to weather, between November 2 and December 20, 2009.
According to the project’s press release, testing will take place in three steps, beginning with a first exit from the hangar, with on-ground testing of all four (10 hp) electric motors and a thorough check of all aircraft systems. Step two will involve high-speed taxi runs, “testing the aircraft’s controllability in acceleration and deceleration.” Step three will involve actual flight tests, limited to “‘Flea hops’, just like the Wright Brothers in 1903!”
After successful testing, “the aircraft will be transported to Payerne airfield (VD) where successive solar test flights will take place at a higher altitude and over ever longer distances. The aim is to be ready, by spring 2010, for a complete day-night-day cycle, a vital stage in approaching the concept of perpetual flight.”
Solar Impulse prototype HB-SIA is the first craft to be developed in the quest to fly around the world (in five stages) on solar power alone. As noted, the 202-foot span airplane is the size of an Airbus A340, but weighs only 1600 kg (3,520 pounds), and has the power of a high-speed scooter. Its nearly 12,000 solar cells will provide enough power to fly the plane during daylight hours, and allow storage of enough energy to keep it aloft overnight, flying a roughly sawtooth flight profile. Captain Bertrand Picard, leader of the project, and Andre’ Borschberg will take over flight evaluations at a future date.