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Solar Plane Completes First 24-Hour Flight

The biggest problem facing the engineers of solar planes is how to keep the plane going during the period between dusk and dawn, when there is either no sun, or the sun is too low in the sky to shine directly on the aircraft’s solar panels.

The HB-SIA, designed by the Solar Impulse Project, is now the first plane to ever surmount these difficulties.  It completed its first full twenty-four hour flight on Thursday, touching down 26 hours after it took off, with three hours of battery still available to it.

From Geeks Are Sexy:

The way the plane works, with four electrical engines and solar panels on the wings, is both remarkably simple in concept and extremely difficult in practice. As well as using a carbon fiber design to keep the weight low, the power of the plane is limited to around 6kW and the top speed is a mere 43 miles per hour.

The plan now is to produce a follow-up model next year which will add a pressurized cabin and extra oxygen supplies so that the plane can get as high as 39,000 feet. The necessary tweaks to the plane design will mean the wingspan will have to be brought up to 260 feet, slightly wider than that of the super-size Airbus A380 passenger airline.

Theoretically, a solar plane that can store enough power during the day to fly all night, could remain in the air indefinitely, barring really bad weather and the eventual need to replace parts.  (Just like that plane in the opening scene of that one episode of Batman Beyond yes my brain has weird priorities vis-à-vis remembering Saturday morning cartoons.)  However, the plane currently only seats one person, making the length of its flight limited by human endurance, not machine.

Video, featuring an interview with Solar Impulse head Betrand Piccard, below.  Yes, his name is Piccard, he’s a part of aviation history, and he’s bald.  Enjoy.

(via Geeks are Sexy.)

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