Solar plane pioneer prepares for US takeoff

Solar plane pioneer prepares for US takeoff

Summary: Solar airplane developer Solar Impulse has planned a flight from San Francisco to New York in another step in its quest to provide low-cost, eco-friendly air travel.


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  • (Image: Solar Impulse)

    The ride to San Francisco

    The SB-H1B is getting a ride to San Francisco aboard a Boeing 747.

  • (Image: Solar Impulse)


    This shows the wing span, 63.4 meters (208 feet) compared to a Airbus 340. Its length is 21.85 meters (71 feet), and height is 6.4 meters (20 feet). It runs on four brushless motors with 10hp per motor. The HB-S1B is powered by 10,748 solar cells on its wings and 880 on the horizontal stabilizer. It takes off at 44k/h (27mph), flies at 70k/h (44mph), and has a maximum cruising altitude of 8,500 meters (27,000 feet).

  • (Image: Solar Impulse)

    First solar powered flight

    The first significant solar-powered flight was in 1981, when Paul MacCready's US team developed the Gossamer Penguin, and then the Solar Challenger. They flew across the English Channel with a maximum power of 2.5kw. At the same time in Europe, Günter Rochelt developed the Solair 1, which was powered by 2,500 photovoltaic cells and produced up to 2.2kW.

Topics: Nasa / Space, Travel Tech

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  • cheap airline tickets

    I don't expect airline tickets to become any cheaper. The fuel portion of the ticket is already small.
    • Re: The fuel portion of the ticket is already small.

      Then why do newer aircraft like the Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 make such a big deal out of their fuel-efficiency?
  • A bit of nonsense

    "low-cost, eco-friendly air travel"
    Solar impulse has nothing to do with low-cost or eco-friendly or air travel. It is an attempt to advance technology that would provide relatively inexpensive way to have aerial surveilance/communication platform that would not require refueling and would be available 24/7.
    • exactly

      only big brother needs to get all happy about this, as it will in no way advance people flight.
      • re: nonsense

        I'm going to assume that even a 100% efficient solar cell couldn't power a larger plane with comfy seats, passengers, luggage, food service & the like.
        • You would assume correctly.

          Incident sunlight is 1.1 kW per square meter. That sounds like a lot until you realize that a 747 uses 90 MW of power to get airborne, and 45 MW of power to maintain cruise. That's 81,000 square meters of solar panels at 100% efficiency.
    • There is a valid reason to do it as well,over and above the sinister.

      One use for very high altitude stationary aircraft is "local" satellite equivalents, sustaining a pylon turn circa 200,000 feet and serving to create multiple telecom "islands" in large metropolitan areas. Such "small sats" would be able to provide broad spectrum Wi-Max for tens of thousands without depleting the available bandwidth per area.
      A pretty solid idea.
  • *transcontinental

    If it doesn't leave the continent of North America, it isn't intercontinental. Transcontinental is to traverse, cover, cross the continent.

  • The first pic of the series is awsome

    I imagine that would freak quite a few people out, if this likely silent (as it's electric) row of lights passed overhead. :)
    William Farrel
    • Silent?

      Propellers make a lot of noise...and I believe there are 4 of them.

      As for making travel efficient or low cost? It's slow, so how much is your time worth? You could take a sailing ship to travel to Europe from the US. I guess you could call it "green", but I don't see that replacing air travel or diesel powered shipping.
      Uber Dweeb
      • Silent as in only the propeller noise

        "likely" silent was the term, should have used "relatively" ( I fly electric R/C's at times). With it coming towards you and no loud jet/piston engine noise, it would probably take a few by surprise.

        As for replacing air travel or diesel powered shipping, I agree. Nice start, but not even close yet.
        William Farrel
  • well . . .

    "As in the days of Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Erhardt, there's only room for one pilot in a solar plane. But who knows what the future will bring? Imagine what an airplane ticket would cost if airlines didn't have to pay for fuel?"

    Well, for one, solar power isn't advanced enough for large aircraft yet. Just to get a *single* pilot to stay in the air meant making it hyper-lightweight, covering the entire thing with solar panels, and making it as wide as an Airbus 340.

    Also, solar power means you can't fly during night. And you know as well as I do how slowly battery technology has been crawling - after many years, we still don't have the battery power we would like for our ever-fancier electronics or electric cars.

    The technologies Charles Lindbergh had to deal with were all quite young - all were bound to have breakthroughs and just get better. Indeed, a major breakthrough would eventually be the jet engine - something that really made modern airline possible.

    We'd need similar major breakthroughs in solar and battery technology to make it feasible for airliner scale flights.
    • There isn't enough power in sunlight to power

      a jet. See my post above. At 100% efficiency, a 747 would require 81,000 square meters of solar panels.
  • Humble beginnings

    I suppose I can agree that many beginnings of "new things" are humble as this one is. However as many have noted, the likelihood of this sort of tech reducing the cost of airline tickets, at least any time in the next 50 years, is almost zero. And even if, technically, it did lower the costs, do any of us REALLY believe the airlines would pass those savings onto us? Not only will aircraft be more expensive to build - at least until the technology becomes very "common" - but maintenance and such is likely to be easily as expensive as existing technology: possibly more. I like the thought of us going off "fossil fuels" and many levels, but the truth is that those who control the energy production on this planet care nothing for us other than our wallets and how they can manipulate us. The corporatocracy that runs this planet see us as nothing more than a bunch of cash-cows that need to be coddled, fed, controlled and kept subservient. "They" are not going to give us any more than they absolutely have to in order to keep us "happily" enslaved in our gold cages.
    • word fix

      Hate the way one can't edit an initial post. Where text reads "and many levels" it should be "on many levels"