Solar Impulse designers say new plane will be ready by 2014

By Nilima Choudhury

Solar Impulse’s second generation aircraft could be ready to take off by the end of 2013, with test flights to commence early next year.

The group’s first plane touched down in New York on Sunday, completing the final leg of a journey across the USA powered by solar power alone.

At the end of June, engineers completed landing gear tests of the second aircraft which is due to circle the globe between April and June 2015.

Swiss pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg alternately flew Solar Impulse from San Francisco to New York via Phoenix, Dallas-Fort Worth, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Washington DC. The new model has a larger cockpit which will allow a more comfortable flight for the pilots.

Solar Impulse pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg celebrated their landing in New York yesterday. (Source: Solar Impulse)

Although similar in profile, the second generation plane will use newer and lighter technologies with a more powerful motor to be significantly more resistant to certain climates.

While these are early days for solar powered flight, the Solar Impulse team believe aspects of their technology could be transferred to commercial airplanes: “Like Bertrand Piccard co-founder and pilot would say: we would be crazy to say yes and stupid to say no,” said spokesman Alexandra Gindroz.

Making history for solar power technology and aviation, Solar Impulse is the first aircraft capable of flying day and night powered exclusively by solar energy across the US from the west to east coast.

The plane incorporated 12,000 high-performance solar cells covering the plane’s wingspan alongside lithium-polymer batteries (charged by the solar cells during the day) that provided power when the sun sets.

The journey took a total of 105 hours 41min and 3511 miles flown at an average speed of 43 miles per hour.

The plane, weighing 1.6 tons, equivalent to a small car, was forced to land three hours earlier than planned at New York’s John F. Kennedy International airport yesterday due to a tear in the fabric on the left wing.

“This last leg was especially difficult due to the damage of the fabric on the left wing. It obliged the team to envisage all the possible scenarios, including bailing out over the Atlantic. But this type of problem is inherent to every experimental endeavour,” said Borschberg, shortly after landing.

“In the end, this didn’t prevent us from succeeding in our Across America mission and provided an invaluable learning experience in preparation for the round-the-world tour in 2015.”

US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz welcomed the arrival of Solar Impulse to Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C. in mid-June. He noted that Solar Impulse is a symbol of a technology that is coming of age.

Over the past four years, the costs of solar photovoltaic systems have dropped by 80% – making them a more affordable and accessible option for American families and businesses.

The Solar Impulse Across America mission is made in partnership with Solvay, Schindler, Bayer Material Science, Swiss Re Corporate Solutions, Sunpower and the Swiss Confederation.

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