Today, everyone is talking about their "carbon footprint' - and many are doing home "staycations" in the name of environmentalism and the new green economy. The aviation industry has a lot more to lose than high priced jet fuel if flying falls out of favor with the jetset as being green becomes more and more in vogue!
Two inventors/pilots with a creative solution to this problem are Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg - their new Solar Impulse HB-SIA was showcased at a Swiss Airfield last Friday. Although this craft joins the ranks of many other such innovations in renewable energy based aviation, it is designed to be able to fly all night. After this year's test flight, a night flight is scheduled for 2010 to see if it can stay in the air for 36 hours, which is the goal.
During the day, over 12,000 solar panels installed on the wings charge lithium polymer batteries while supplying the four 10-horsepower electric motors with power for flight. At night, the battery banks take over.
With that many solar panels and batteries, one would think that the Solar Impulse would be awkward due to weight. Not so! At 1.7 tons, it weighs about as much as the average car.
The inventors of the Solar Impulse claim that their invention was created to prove that sustainable technology CAN be both profitable and viable for the transportation industry. According to Piccard (as quoted by CNET):
"If an aircraft is able to fly day and night without fuel, propelled solely by solar energy, let no one come and claim that is impossible to do the same thing for motor vehicles, heating and air conditioning systems ,and computers."
Lets hope that this technology takes off soon, so we can again enjoy guilt-free vacations!