Solar plane arrives at Paris Air Show

22. June 2011 | Applications & Installations, Global PV markets, Top News | By:  Jonathan Gifford

A solar plane, Solar Impulse HB-SIA, has landed and is drawing major crowds at the Paris Air Show underway this week in the French capital. While certainly not the first solar aircraft, the Solar Impulse is the first airplane to be able to fly without fuel and capable of flying day and night.

A small crowd in front of the Solar Impulse aircraft.

Photovoltaic powered Solar Impulse arrives at Paris Airshow to great acclaim. Image: Solar Impulse.

Pilot André Borschberg landed the Solar Impulse in Paris one-week-ago after a 16-hour flight from Brussels. While the flight time may seem lengthy, the Solar Impulse team report on their blog that the craft had made the journey in "a few hours", but that Borschberg had to wait for weather conditions, air traffic and landing permission to clear before landing.

102 years after the first Paris Air Show, the Solar Impulse’s inclusion is significant, where it’s situated only a hundred meters away from an Airbus A-380, as it can be seen as challenging the industry to embrace solar technolgoy. The Solar Impulse team hopes to take the photovoltaic powered plane on demonstration flights in the next few days, weather permitting.

On opening the show, French President Nicolas Sarkozy described the Solar Impulse as being, "the wings of the future." The Paris Air Show has a green energy theme and some airplanes have been demonstrating bio-fuel utilization systems.

The aim of the Solar Impulse project is to design a solar powered aircraft capable of flying for five days and five nights: around the world non-stop. The HB-SIA uses around 12,000 photovoltaic cells that charge onboard batteries during the day, which allow the aircraft to fly through the night. The wingspan of the Solar Impulse is similar to that of an Airbus and it weighs about the same as a mid-sized car. No passengers can be carried and the cockpit is not large.

A second solar aircraft is currently under construction by the Impulse Team, which will feature a larger cockpit to allow the pilot to make longer journeys. Lightweight photovoltaic cells are used to maximize efficiency while keeping down weight.

The Solar Impulse’s batteries are a major constraint on the project as they are one of the heaviest parts of the aircraft and therefore requires all other components to be kept extremely light. An onboard computing system manages the batteries’ charge and discharge status while providing the engines with constant power.

The Solar Impulse HB-SIA will be on display at the Paris Airshow, which opens to the general public tomorrow. It is located at stand number G301 and can be seen from Friday 24 to Sunday 26 June from 2:00pm onwards.


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