A solar-powered plane is getting ready to hit the skies once again – this time, at night.
It will be the first ever manned night flight on a plane propelled exclusively by solar energy.
Solar Impulse will lift off from an airfield in Switzerland, on a sunny day sometime at the end of June.
It will then fly around, charging the solar cells on the plane’s wings, in a bid to store enough energy for the electric motors to last until dawn.
The aim of the project’s founders, Andre Borschberg and round-the-world balloonist Bertrand Piccard, is to show that a solar-powered craft is able to fly day and night – and eventually long-distance flights – without any fuel.
“These night flights in an aircraft propelled uniquely by solar energy are intended to demonstrate the potential of the renewable energies and the technologies that will gradually enable us to diminish our dependence on oil”, said Dr Piccard.
The HB-SIA, as the plane is called, has a wingspan of 61m – comparable to a super-jumbo jet. But at just 1.5t, it is only the weight of a saloon car.
It first left the ground in December 2009 and has since performed a series of short daytime flight tests, dubbed “flea-hops”, venturing no higher than 60cm (2ft) in altitude and 300m in distance.
The first full day flight was completed on 7 April.
Mr Borschberg will pilot the plane on its first night flight. If it proves a success, the Solar Impulse team will attempt to go even further.
The ultimate aim is to push the frontier of renewable solar energy. In two years’ time, the plane will set off on its first manned transatlantic solar flight, followed in 2013 by an even more daring circumnavigation of the Earth.
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Source: BBC News
Photo: Solar Impulse
Caption: Solar Impulse