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.
Artificially created metamaterials are already appearing in niche applications like electronics, communications, and defense, says a new report from Lux Research. How quickly they become mainstream depends on cost-effective manufacturing methods, which will include additive manufacturing.
SpaceX has 3D printed and successfully hot-fired a SuperDraco engine chamber made of Inconel, a high-performance superalloy, using direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). The company's first 3D-printed rocket engine part, a main oxidizer valve body for the Falcon 9 rocket, launched in January and is now qualified on all Falcon 9 flights.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and MIT have 3D-printed a new class of metamaterials that are both exceptionally light and have exceptional strength and stiffness. The new metamaterials maintain a nearly constant stiffness per unit of mass density, over three orders of magnitude.
Smart composites that let the material's structural health be monitored automatically and continuously are getting closer to reality. R&D partners in an EU-sponsored project have demonstrated what they say is the first complete, miniaturized, fiber-optic sensor system entirely embedded inside a fiber-reinforced composite.
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