Soon, this solar airplane will make an overnight trip

Solar Impulse hopes that its airplane can make the first overnight trip — running only off of solar power. Plus, its next generation plane will be built with nanotubes to improve speed and efficiency.

Meet Solvay, the airplane that might make history as the first plane to fly overnight by solar power. The aircraft is expected to last 36 hours in flight. Perhaps this is hopeful thinking for the Swiss, considering their last test flight only launched the plane a meter in the air and a mere 350 meters forward.

BBC cheekily called the December launch a "flea hop." The plane has been in the works for a while, but it is expected to make big moves this year.

  • The solar-powered plane was the brain child of explorer Betrand Piccard (the guy who traveled the world in a balloon). Solar Impulse made his prototype real.
  • Only one person can fly it. The lucky lad is pilot Markus Scherdel.
  • Its wings are outfitted with photovoltaic cells with a conversion rates of 22 percent.
  • The key to flying at night is in the rechargeable lithium polymer batteries.
  • In 2 years, the plane will make a transatlantic flight.
  • Final goal is to take a trip around the world in just 25 days. And they hope to do this by 2013.

By partnering with Bayer MaterialScience, Solar Impulse hopes to tap into its nanotube technology, so their plane can fly even faster and lighter. The downside to making the plane so light is the risk involved: Nobody really knows how it will hold up in the mile high sky.

Image: flickr/ Ange Halle

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