Largest-Battery Powered Airplane Takes Flight

Dean Sigler Uncategorized Leave a Comment

Two weeks ahead of the 106th anniversary of controlled powered flight by the Wright Brothers, the Solar Impulse, HB-SIA broke its earthly bounds and flew 350 meters (about a quarter mile) at a height of about one meter.  Because the airplane does not yet have its solar panels mounted, the flight was made on battery power.

Solar Impulse compared to Airbus 340-600

Solar Impulse compared to Airbus 340-600

Graphic © Solar Impulse/EPFL Claudio Leonardi

The project’s press release leaves no doubt as to the importance, and the thrill, of the flight.

“The results of the ground tests conducted these last few weeks to verify numerous parameters (the prototype’s controllability, acceleration, braking paths and, engine power) had been overwhelming positive, thereby leading the team to give the go-ahead to Markus Scherdel, the test pilot, to take the prototype up to its take-off speed.

“As the aircraft gently took up speed, the huge wing of the Solar Impulse gradually rose into the air under intense admiration of the project promoters, Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg. After some 350 metres of flight at an altitude of one meter, the prototype graciously landed on the centre of the runway, triggering a frenzied applause from the team.

“‘On the one hand I find it terrific to see a dream come true. For over ten years now, I have dreamt of a solar aircraft capable of flying day and night without fuel – and promoting renewable energy. Today, our plane took off and was airborne for the very first time. This is an unbelievable and unforgettable moment! On the other hand, I remain humble in the face of the difficult journey still to be accomplished – it’s a long way between these initial tests and a circumnavigation of the world’, commented Bertrand Piccard, initiator and President of Solar Impulse.

“‘This is the culmination of 6 years of intense work by a very experienced team of professionals! This first “flea hop” successfully completes the first phase of Solar Impulse, confirming our technical choices. We are now ready to start the next phase – the actual flight tests’, said Andre Borschberg, co-founder and CEO of Solar Impulse.

“At this stage the solar panels have not yet been connected. With the positive conclusion of this initial “flea hop”, the Solar Impulse HB-SIA will now be dismantled and transported to the airfield at Payerne (VD). Starting in early 2010 onwards, the aircraft will be making its first solar test flights, gradually increasing flight duration until it makes its first night flight using solar energy.”

Those wishing to have a part in supporting this effort can view their options on the Solar Impulse Supporter’s Page.  135 Euros (about $204) will purchase a solar cell, and your image and name will be associated with that cell on the project’s web page.

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