Are Solar Planes the Future of Flight?

Are Solar Planes the Future of Flight?

Photo Credit: pixabay.com

Between years 2015 and 2016, Solar Impulse 2,

the first flying solar aircraft completed a circumnavigation of the Earth. This may be quite an achievement in aviation since aircrafts are mostly being propelled by fuel-powered engines. This may also be an environmental achievement, as it only uses solar power to make airplanes fly, as opposed to fuel which would bring about a heavy amount of carbon emissions in the atmosphere. Now that Solar Impulse 2 has flown and completed a turn around the Earth, are solar planes the future of flight? How does a solar-powered airplane work anyway?

Here’s a preview of how it works, from revolvy.com:

Solar cell converts sunlight into electricity, either for direct power or temporary storage. The power output of solar cells is small, even when many are connected together, which limits their use and is also expensive. However, their use of freely available sunlight makes them attractive for high-altitude, long-endurance applications. For endurance flights, keeping the craft in the air all night typically requires a backup storage system, which supplies power during the hours of darkness and recharges during the day.

Now back to the journey of the first flying solar aircraft.

Solar Impulse 2’s journey to circumnavigate the Earth took more than a year, 505 days to be exact, to fly 26,000 miles (42,000 km) at an average speed of about 45 mph (70 kph). Despite its relatively slow speed and relatively low altitude, Swiss pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg successfully landed the Solar Impulse 2 aircraft in Abu Dhabi on July 26, 2016, after flying around the world using only the power of the Sun. Bertrand Piccard, a medical doctor specialized in psychiatry, explorer and aeronaut, who made the first non-stop round-the-world balloon flight, is the initiator and chairman. André Borschberg, an engineer and graduate in management science, a fighter pilot, and a professional airplane and helicopter pilot, is the co-founder and CEO.

Solar Impulse 2 is a solar-powered aircraft equipped with more than 17,000 solar cells that weigh only 2.4 tons with a wingspan of 235 ft (72 m). Technical challenges, poor flying conditions, and a delicate aircraft all contributed to the slow pace. During daylight, the solar panels charged the plane’s batteries, which make up a quarter of the craft’s 2.3-tonne weight. The pilot also climbed to 29,000 feet during the day and glided down to 5,000 feet at night, to conserve power. The plane flies at about 30mph, although it can go faster if the sun is bright.

Are Solar Planes the Future of Flight?

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