A manned solar-powered aircraft strongly supported by
major materials' companies flew for an extended period for the first time,
going no higher than 4,000 ft above the Swiss countryside. Powered by 12,000
solar cells, the goal of the Solar Impulse is to fly around the world,
demonstrating the feasibility of solar aircraft.
"This first mission was the most risky phase of the
entire project," says André Borschberg, CEO and co-founder of the project. "Never
has an airplane as large and light flown before. The aim was to verify the
prototype's behavior in flight and to test its reaction to various maneuvers.
The success of this first flight allows us to envisage the further program with
Solar Impulse program founder Bertrand Piccard called the
inaugural flight a crucial step toward fulfilling his goal of circumnavigating
the globe in such an unusual aircraft. In a statement from the Solar Impulse
team, Piccard said he was relieved to have the first flight completed after
seven years of hard work.
"We still have a
long way to go until the night flights and an even longer way before flying around
the world, but today, thanks to the extraordinary work of an entire team, an
essential step toward achieving our vision has been taken", he said. "Our
future depends on our ability to convert rapidly to the use of renewable
energies. Solar Impulse is intended to demonstrate what can be done already
today by using these energies and applying new technologies that can save
The Solar Impulse has the wingspan of a jumbo jet to hold
all of the solar cells, yet is lightweight to minimize power requirements. At 208
ft, the aircraft's wingspan is about 10 ft more than Boeing's 787 Dreamliner. It
weighs just 3,500 lb loaded for flight.
Much of the credit goes to polymer companies who are partnering
on the project.
Contributions from the Solvay group include:
Research into optimum solutions and
materials, especially through the definition of composite structure materials
and high-performance plastics for metal replacement.
The production and/or selection of high-performance
polymers for critical applications, such as watertight joints and fasteners.
Bolts and screws, for example, are made from PrimoSpire SRP from Solvay
Methods of encapsulating and assembling
photovoltaic cells using the structural material selected for the plane.
Research into the production and utilization
of appropriate photovoltaic materials.
Solutions for improved (Ion-polymer)
Selection of high-performance thermal insulation
Non-linear numerical simulation using
software adapted to suit large-scale parts and extreme conditions.
Mechanical evaluation and testing of
materials in extreme conditions.
Bayer MaterialScience is also contributing materials'
knowhow to the project.
Automakers are on the prowl for lighter weight materials to make vehicles less heavy and more fuel efficient, and Nanosteel is one of the companies hoping to take advantage of this opportunity with their lightweight automotive steel of the same name.
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