There are eight thermoplastic partsalready developed for a solar-powered airplane under development with at least seven more coming.
The Solar Impulse is a long-range aircraft currently under study at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Lausanne, Switzerland. The aircraft is intended to be a one-seater. The wingspan of the Solar Impulse will be 262.5 ft, slightly wider than the wingspan of an Airbus A380. The structure is made from carbon fibers.
A prototype with a 200-ft wingspan is under construction in Switzerland and initial test flights are expected in one year. Construction of the final plane is still two to three years off. It's hoped that an around-the-world flight, in stages, will begin in 2011.
The purpose of the prototype is to validate mechanical engineering concepts being developed for the plane. These include new lightweight plastic parts from Solvay, one of the principal sponsors of the project.
The newly developed parts include:
Battery Binder: Solef polyvinylidene fluoride/Solvay Solexis.
Hinges (Inserts): Ixef polyarylamide/Solvay Advanced Polymers.
Throttle Housing: Radel polyphenylsulfone/Solvay Advanced Polymers.
Bushings: Torlon polyamide-imide and KetaSpire polyetheretherketone/Solvay Advanced Polymers.
Foam Cockpit Eggshell: Solkane foam/Solvay Chemicals.
Circuit Board Spacers: PrimoSpire self-reinforced polyphenylene (SRP)/Solvay Advanced Polymers.
Bolts & Screws: PrimoSpire SRP/Solvay Advanced Polymers.
Lubricant: Fomblin perfluoropolyether/Solvay Solexis.
In the most recent development, two Solar Impulse pilots flew a virtual flight in a cockpit identical to the one in the first prototype. The flight simulator was assembled by the EPFL, enabling them to pilot the aircraft for the first time, equipped and harnessed as they will be during their first flights.
The work on the Solar Impulse shows the new ground being broken with polymers and other materials' technology. Other examples in plastics and metals are described in the following pages.