100-Percent Solar Plane Flies High on Advanced Materials
The world's first 100-percent solar-powered fixed-wing airplane, the Solar Impulse HI-SIA, takes off from California's Moffett Field on the first leg of its cross-country flight this summer. (Source: Solar Impulse)
@Ann, thanks for informative post. Cost of flight reaching all time highs due to a various factors like fossil fuels costs, cuts in government subsidies. There is a need for alternatives energy resource. Solar energy is potential solutions to cut costs.
I really like this idea of a solar plane, thanks for this coverage, Ann. I am impressed at how the use of lighter, advanced materials makes this type of flight possible. Using alternative fuels for airplane travel is really good, but solar power, in my opinion, would be even better.
Elizabeth, I also was happy to see the lighter alternative materials being used. And I agree that solar power would be ideal for just about everything, if it were feasible in each case. Advances like this one show us that a lot is possible when you combine brains, talent, funding, expertise and willpower.
AnandY, that type of design detail may be available on the Solar Impulse website. I find it interesting that another solar-powered airplane, the prototype Electric High Altitude Solar-Powered Aircraft (ELHASPA), which we describe here http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&itc=dn_analysis_element&doc_id=264353&image_number=11 also has very long, thin wings, which are typical of aircraft designed to glide.
Ann, that was my first thought, when I read the title of your article: that the plane would be built like a glider. Especially with these preliminary designs - that only makes sense...not only for general power consumption given the general inefficiency of solar power, but if there is not enough power, the plane can still safely fly...and land!
Nancy, I had that thought, too, even before I saw the photos. One reason is because of the background info I read for the story of the perpetual-flight plane:
Excellent post Ann and the video was terrific. One of my favorite people in history is George Bernard Shaw. He said the following: You see things; and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, "Why not?" One of the reasons folks like us got into engineering was to ask WHY NOT! I fear all too frequently our so-called leaders stop asking why not. We (seemingly) have become a nation without a national goal. At one time, the exploration of space was our vision. Now we seem to be content allowing the politicians to line their pockets while appeasing their "base". Getting reelected is all they strive for.
Glad you liked it, bobj, and thanks for the Shaw quote--he was an early hero of mine, too. That whole "why not?" spirit is what's been so exciting about Silicon Valley (my home "town) and these days, about alternative energy sources, in my opinion. Figuring out how to go to the Moon is often cited as an expression of the daring and ability of the human spirit. I think this airplane--and a few other feats of what looked like impossible technology--can be seen in the same light.
Most of the new 3D printers and 3D printing technologies in this crop are breaking some boundaries, whether it's build volume-per-dollar ratios, multimaterials printing techniques, or new materials types.
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