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Solar-Powered Ultralight To Try 24-Hour Flight

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the mehr-licht dept.

Transportation 104

blair1q writes "When the solar aircraft Solar Impulse lifts off from an airfield in Switzerland on a sunny day at the end of June, it will begin the first ever manned night flight on a plane propelled exclusively by power it collects from the sun. Former Swiss Air Force pilot Andre Borschberg and round-the-world balloonist Bertrand Piccard developed the aircraft, and Borschberg will be the pilot for this mission. 'The flight will require a lot of attention and concentration — the plane doesn't have an auto-pilot, it has to be flown for 24 hours straight.' For him, the most exciting part of the venture is 'being on the plane during the day and seeing the amount of energy increasing instead of decreasing as on a normal aircraft.'"

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The danger of solar power (5, Funny)

For a Free Internet (1594621) | more than 4 years ago | (#32588562)

Today the answer to everything seems to be solar power. But before we all get swept up in this fad, let's consider. For every action, there is an equal opposite reaction, said Albert Einstien. Every time yu use up sun rays, you take away energy from the sun. Do these enviro-hippies want to burn out the source of all life and live on a dark ball of ice? They don't care, they are too hopped up on Italian marijuana to think about the consequences of their "innovations." Let's stick to what works, good, clean natural coal power. God bless America!

Re:The danger of solar power (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#32588580)

I am sure Leonard Nimoy would agree. This is a very dangerous project.

Re:The danger of solar power (2, Funny)

wisdom_brewing (557753) | more than 4 years ago | (#32588730)

They're doing it now to avoid the sunspots of 2013 - http://www.physorg.com/news161026403.html

Re:The danger of solar power (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32588812)

When Spock raises his hand and says "live long and prosper", he means 2 in the pink, 2 in the stink.

Re:The danger of solar power (2, Insightful)

Mister Whirly (964219) | more than 4 years ago | (#32590820)

Are you referring to the Spocker?

Re:The danger of solar power (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32588660)

Trolling for liberals I see.

Re:The danger of solar power (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32589068)

Not to forget that it speeds up global warming. The argument is rather simple: Usually the sunlight would hit the ground and some of it would get reflected back into space. Now the sun light hits the solar panels, which ideally don't reflect much, the light gets converted into electricity and further converted into heat, wether it's losses in the electrical system, motor or friction in the air. Do I miss something ? ;)

Re:The danger of solar power (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589162)

Yes, you indeed are. What you're missing is that we're already using that energy. Rather than taking energy that's been stored chemically and re-releasing it into the atmosphere along with the emissions, we're somewhat reducing the Albedo. So while it does somewhat increase warming on that front, the overall picture is either no change or a small decline in warming from energy use.

Re:The danger of solar power (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32589252)

Yes, you indeed are. What you're missing is that we're already using that energy. Rather than taking energy that's been stored chemically and re-releasing it into the atmosphere along with the emissions, we're somewhat reducing the Albedo. So while it does somewhat increase warming on that front, the overall picture is either no change or a small decline in warming from energy use.

You're assuming cheap solar power would replace other energy sources. If history is any indication, adding another source of cheap power just means worldwide power consumption would go up.

Of course, if you're living on the edge of starvation somewhere, cheaper power means cheaper food....

Hmm... (0, Redundant)

Apagador-Man (707934) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589308)

WOOOOOOSH..... ?

Re:The danger of solar power (3, Funny)

Rivalz (1431453) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589198)

Instead of Coal or Solar Power they should create a Boat that Sucks up the water out of the ocean and thanks to BP has oil particles mixed in a high enough concentration to run on a hybrid oil/ocean water mixture forever. Thanks BP!

Re:The danger of solar power (1)

sheph (955019) | more than 4 years ago | (#32591932)

Hey, free fuel. You might be on to something there. Obable said he want's to try something new. This fits that bill just fine.

Re:The danger of solar power (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589564)

Do these enviro-hippies want to burn out the source of all life and live on a dark ball of ice?

Yeah, man. It's too damned hot here, the temperature tomorrow is going to be in the nineties. I say let's suck that thing dry, or at least until it's not quite so warm.

They don't care, they are too hopped up on Italian marijuana to think about the consequences of their "innovations."

Yeah, man, those Italians grow some killer shit!

God bless America!

God bless Italy!!!

Re:The danger of solar power (1)

For a Free Internet (1594621) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589636)

You think it is a joek that America is under attack by Italian islamocommunist Nazi terrorist atheists? That they are using teachers unions to abduct our wives to their gay sodomy camps in Mexico? And now thye are trying tpo suck out our sun with the solar power fraud? Well I care about our America and our Future, our Freedom and our GOD! So there!

Re:The danger of solar power (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 4 years ago | (#32590576)

For every action, there is an equal opposite reaction, said Albert Einstien.

For every action, there is a Jackson, said Mike Nelson.

Re:The danger of solar power (1)

Hoi Polloi (522990) | more than 4 years ago | (#32591206)

Don't worry, at night it will run on moonlight so the drain will be split evenly between the moon and the sun.

Re:The danger of solar power (4, Informative)

karnal (22275) | more than 4 years ago | (#32591544)

For every action, there is an equal opposite reaction, said Albert Einstien.

Newton's sitting in the corner glaring at you.

Re:The danger of solar power (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32592884)

Is it weird that this is turning me on?

Re:The danger of solar power (3, Funny)

Ksevio (865461) | more than 4 years ago | (#32594528)

One summer I was working at a college and was wearing a hard hat while I was going to check something at a construction site. As I was heading along a public street, some guy with a big beard and rainbow hat and shirt came up and started asking if I knew anything about solar power. I told him I did, and he worriedly asked if it was "sucking in the sun".

I told him that it was safe because it would be wasted if we didn't save it and he seemed very relieved that science wasn't going to use it all up. He promised to talk to me again so I quickly requested to work at a different site.

How about using thermals? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32588594)

How about soaring and using ridge lift? Ridge lift has been long used by glider pilots for cross-country flights. This planes seems to be a good enough sailplane. I has large aspect ratio wings and lift to drag ratio is probably decent as well, even though it does not look very streamlined, but it the ratio of the lift to drag that matters and this thing has a lot of lift.

Combined, solar and thermal energy (i.e. the energy of thermal air updraft) would yield a plane that could stay in the air forever.

Oh god no (4, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#32588628)

I had a peek at TFA so I could comment. This thing would fall apart in a thermal. Ridge lift means flying fast to avoid flying into the rotor behind the hill. Its not uncommon to pull a couple of Gs flying into and out of a thermal and this aircraft doesn't look up to it to me.

My guess is they are waiting for still air before they fly it. Look at the size of those control surfaces. Sure it will have a high LD but at 30 knots or so.

Re:Oh god no (2, Informative)

kyoorius (16808) | more than 4 years ago | (#32590554)

Something that big and fragile will have to be launched in still air, but as the ground heats up in the afternoon, there will definitely be thermals popping off. Ridge lift is works down low, but will not likely be used in this mission (that would be cheating!). The thermals, however definitely will affect the flight. Up high (2000+ ft above the ground) there are often large patches of big lift and also sink (1000 feet per minute up or down is typical). The skill of the pilot's ability to read the ground and sky will play a large role in keeping the craft up in the air during the day. He will have to escape the sinking air and remain in the lift as long as possible. The night portion of the flight will probably the easy part - just coast around on battery until the 24 hr mark. The above information is common knowledge to all soaring pilots (which I am also myself). A few of my flying buddies have stayed up for 10 hours and flown 200+ miles on hang gliders - quite a feat accomplished without any motor or batteries. Given some decent pilot skill and the right weather conditions, the solar craft should have no problem accomplishing the task.

Re:Oh god no (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#32595992)

I suppose the thing which bothers me about thermals is the rough air getting in and out. Thermals are surrounded by sink. A big, fragile aircraft could be in lift and sink at the same time and be subject to structural problems.

Re:How about using thermals? (1, Funny)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 4 years ago | (#32588654)

Combined, solar and thermal energy (i.e. the energy of thermal air updraft) would yield a plane that could stay in the air forever.

[grin... quite a large one] I like the flying forever concept.
And what a wonderful idea: dig some huge bores through the Earth crust and let the planes sore into the night using geothermal. Alternatively, lit/maintain some huge fires to create some constant lift around the globe and suddenly the aviation is no longer affected by oil prices... Errr... wait...

Re:How about using thermals? (4, Informative)

vadim_t (324782) | more than 4 years ago | (#32588770)

Thermal != geothermal.

Nobody said anything about digging holes, or setting up fires. There exist natural regions [wikipedia.org] of hot and cold air in the atmosphere that gliders take advantage of.

Re:How about using thermals? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#32588786)

Not many in Switzerland I suspect, even in the summer.

Re:How about using thermals? (3, Informative)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 4 years ago | (#32588868)

It's not a matter of temperature, but temperature difference. I bet they have thermals in the summer and the winter.

Re:How about using thermals? (5, Informative)

Gubbe (705219) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589092)

What everyone seems to ignore is that ridge lift has little to do with thermals.
Thermals are streams of warmer air rising up through colder air and caused by temperature differences, just as the parent mentions.
Ridge lift on the other hand is caused by wind encountering a slope and having to move up to get over it, thus creating an upwards vector that can be used by gliders to soar.
The wind that creates ridge lift is of course ultimately caused by air moving in to balance pressure differences, which are formed by air being displaced by temperature differences, but that doesn't mean that ridge lift is the same thing as a thermal.

Re:How about using thermals? (2, Funny)

justleavealonemmmkay (1207142) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589434)

Well technically on a windless day, ridge lift has EVERYTHING to do with thermals

Re:How about using thermals? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32590464)

Well technically, if you have ridge lift, its not a windless day either.
Thus by your own argument, ridge lift has nothing to do with thermals.

Re:How about using thermals? (2, Interesting)

Vihai (668734) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589018)

You are so wrong here! Switzerland is fantastic for soaring, *especially* in summer.

Re:How about using thermals? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589048)

Do tell. Maybe I was led astray by watching glider pilots in the UK. They head for the nearest bit of ridge lift. Never heard of them thermaling.

Re:How about using thermals? (1)

arelas (1336019) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589516)

What does this have to do with a Lead Ashtray?

Re:How about using thermals? (0)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 4 years ago | (#32588848)

Yeap. These tiiiny aspects still need to be solved:
1. finding them during night time
2. finding their location in a predictable way... and when you need them.

This is where the bore-holes are unbeatable [large grin again... I mean... what can go wrong?]

Re:How about using thermals? (1)

vadim_t (324782) | more than 4 years ago | (#32588882)

Some of those are very predictable [wikipedia.org] and have a stable position [wikipedia.org]

But that's why it has a solar panel and batteries, so that it's not limited to finding the right current.

Re:How about using thermals? (1)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 4 years ago | (#32588958)

Thanks for that - I'd consider the post as rather informative...
Event thought the predictability is "when the wind blows up the mountain" or "sunny daytime over a fresh ploughed area or asphalt" (what if no such conditions?) and the position may not be that stable (e.g. cited article: "For example, in 2007, Britain experienced severe flooding as a result of the polar jet staying south for the summer")

Re:How about using thermals? (1)

vadim_t (324782) | more than 4 years ago | (#32588980)

The way I understand it, the interest in this is because you could have an aircraft with monitoring/transmission equipment in the sky for months. So instead of dealing with the latency of a satellite in geostationary orbit, you could be talking to a relay flying at a much lower altitude. It's also much cheaper, and easier to upgrade and replace.

Now of course it won't be 100% perfect, but that doesn't mean it can't be very useful. For things that service a specific area it should be possible to calculate the maximum payload and battery size needed, based on the currents in the area.

Re:How about using thermals? (1)

jack2000 (1178961) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589110)

Why not a high alt blimp? The military already uses them for refueling stations.

Re:How about using thermals? (1)

ThosLives (686517) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589288)

I agree here: lighter-than-air category aircraft already have large surface area and are not expected to have high speeds. Those characteristics make them very suitable for solar.

Solar is just not very practical for fixed-wing aircraft. Yes, you can make "solar gliders" as recreation aircraft, but you're never going to have a solar fixed-wing aircraft with any useful payload and acceptable speed. Solar planes are pretty much motor-gliders, and the applications for those are very different than for fixed-wing.

The only way to get "solar aircraft" in my opinion is to have a solar-powered plant that outputs liquid fuel. Alternatively, there are a few electric airplanes that are in development that are slightly more practical, except they still suffer from "refueling time" issues.

bwuh? (1)

Thud457 (234763) | more than 4 years ago | (#32594434)

Why not a high alt blimp? The military already uses them for refueling stations.

say what, now?

Re:How about using thermals? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#32588982)

A proper sailplane can stay airborne for ten hours or more given fairly favourable conditions. For example flying in the mountains with a bit of wind blowing there should be enough lift to keep you flying indefinitely.

But if its dark or the pilot is tired then the sudden death percentage rises dramatically.

Re:How about using thermals? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32589316)

For those who don't know what ridge lift [wikipedia.org] is: Wind across a hill causes an updraft as the air follows the slope upward. Here are two videos of a small RC glider surfing on the updraft: one [youtube.com] , two [youtube.com] .

Re:How about using thermals? (1)

Spliffster (755587) | more than 4 years ago | (#32590156)

Simple answer to your question: This is a test flight only. the goal is to fly around the word with this thing. Good luck ridge lift over the oceans (where they have to fly 24h or more without landing)

-S

Death Trap (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32588636)

I wouldn't fly an ultralight for any period of time even if it ran on AvGas

Re:Death Trap (1)

j35ter (895427) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589046)

Yes, you sound like one of those tin can pushing checklist peckers. We have some of those left in our club. While you guys sit day in day out in the bar, telling each other flight stories, we, the Ultralight MoGas Flyers ... fly! Oh, and the chicks dig us more than they dig you ... ye know, bigger balls etc :P

Bad idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32588682)

Hmm... flying desert bus

No way that can go wrong.

Re:Bad idea (3, Funny)

Flea of Pain (1577213) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589764)

No kidding, they had the option to have it flown by Capt. Piccard, and chose the other guy. No way this is going to end well...I bet the other guy even wears a red shirt.

Manned missions are just ego-wanking... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32588792)

Not that I mind a bit of ego-wanking.

But human flight in this is limited by the pilot's endurance, so a theoretically indefinite duration is good for no more than 48 hours or so in practice.

The same concept, but with remote/autonomous* control, yields really indefinite-loiter UAVs -- a much more practical creature.

*Yes, I'm aware full autonomous control isn't feasible now, and begs for skynet jokes. But some automation for station-keeping without 100% human intervention is possible and highly desirable....

Re:Manned missions are just ego-wanking... (2, Insightful)

Iamthecheese (1264298) | more than 4 years ago | (#32588930)

24 hours != indefinite. I didn't RTFA but I would bet my left testicle that it will start the flight with full batteries and end with nearly depleted ones. The REAL test will be when energy levels and consumables like lubricant are about the same before and after 24 hours in flight.

Re:Manned missions are just ego-wanking... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32589006)

24 hours != indefinite. I didn't RTFA but I would bet my left testicle that it will start the flight with full batteries and end with nearly depleted ones. The REAL test will be when energy levels and consumables like lubricant are about the same before and after 24 hours in flight.

FTFA: "Solar Impulse will lift off from an airfield in Switzerland, on a sunny day sometime at the end of June. It will then fly around, charging the solar cells on the plane's wings, in a bid to store enough energy for the electric motors to last until dawn... If it proves a success, the Solar Impulse team will attempt to go even further. The ultimate aim is to push the frontier of renewable solar energy. In two years' time, the plane will set off on its first manned transatlantic solar flight, followed in 2013 by an even more daring circumnavigation of the Earth."

Maybe you should bet less and read more.

Re:Manned missions are just ego-wanking... (1)

MooUK (905450) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589176)

I suspect taking off will significantly drain the batteries in the first place.

Re:Manned missions are just ego-wanking... (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 4 years ago | (#32594670)

Which could be charged by leaving it sit out the day before. Did you expect it to get enough power to take off, right from the panels?

Re:Manned missions are just ego-wanking... (1)

MooUK (905450) | more than 4 years ago | (#32595288)

Not at all.

My point was that, even starting with full batteries (which it would be stupid not to), as soon as it's in the air it will have drained them plenty. Hence the flying around recharging for the night.

Re:Manned missions are just ego-wanking... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32589014)

Not that TFS is always, or even usually, right, but it would hardly be "propelled exclusively by power it collects from the sun" if that were the case... a skim of TFA revealed more of the same notion that indefinite runtime is the whole point of the flight, but no explicit statement about battery levels. One would hope that they're being honest about the whole thing.

Consumables is a fair point, but shouldn't be bad -- certainly not compared to hauling a person about.

Re:Manned missions are just ego-wanking... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32589720)

Yeah, and unless the plane can generate food, water and other necessities for crew life support then the whole project is completely useless.

Re:Manned missions are just ego-wanking... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32595542)

what if they flew around the world, with the sun?!?
that would be awesome, they wouldn't need to break for night, they have no night lolololololol

Re:Manned missions are just ego-wanking... (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#32590548)

But human flight in this is limited by the pilot's endurance, so a theoretically indefinite duration is good for no more than 48 hours or so in practice.

It's to test the design. Normally, I would think that the pilot might land the thing and sleep once in a while.

24 hours straight? Dangerous! (1)

RMH101 (636144) | more than 4 years ago | (#32588820)

I get tired if I drive for more than 4 hours straight. When you get tired, you make mistakes. I can't even imagine driving continously for 24 hours without making an error. Surely this is dangerous, both for pilot and anyone he might crashland on?

Re:24 hours straight? Dangerous! (1)

JockTroll (996521) | more than 4 years ago | (#32588912)

Do you know what the 24 hours Le Mans is? Look it up. And flying an airplane is different from driving a car: for instance, no idiot will stick himself to your rear bumber and crash into it, and you don't risk smashing yourself into a tree (unless you're flying too low). There are devices that will keep the plane in level flight, you know, so it's not that much of an issue either. The delicate parts are takeoff and, especially, landing. And it can and has been done in peacetime and wartime.
Only because you cannot do it, it doesn't mean better men cannot as well.

Re:24 hours straight? Dangerous! (-1, Flamebait)

RMH101 (636144) | more than 4 years ago | (#32588950)

you fucking tool.
1) Le Mans is driven in shifts. Yes, I've been there, thanks
2) So flying a plane is easier than driving is it? Just because something's possible, doesn't mean that it's a good idea.

Re:24 hours straight? Dangerous! (1)

JockTroll (996521) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589214)

If you don't try something that is theorically possible to see how much it is practically possible, you will never find out. That's how progress moves, by bold moves, not by fearful step backwards. Accept that those people are smarter, better organized and braver that you could ever be and be inspired to dare. But that's how a jock thinks, so it's way above your level.

Re:24 hours straight? Dangerous! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32590952)

Actually, jocks sit around getting drunk and trying to relive "the best years of their lives" - a.k.a. high school - becasue after they graduate it is all downhill. Back then they were lean, mean, popular and got all the girls. Now they are fat, balding, impotent gym teachers who couldn't get laid with a pocket full of hundreds in a whorehouse. You call that progressive? Well I guess you might if you are a stupid jock! That is about low enough for your level.

Re:24 hours straight? Dangerous! (0, Troll)

JockTroll (996521) | more than 4 years ago | (#32593072)

Envious much? Did some of use beat you up a lot in high school? Did he bash your head against a wall? Did he shove you into a locker? Did he throw you heads-down into a toilet? Did he shit on your face?

Real jocks know that the best years of their lives are ahead of them and not behind, because their competitive spirit pushes them to more and more challenges. And that's why they keep themselves in top mental and physical shape, to the everlasting rage of the scrawny, bespectacled, pizza-faced, grease-haired nerds whose mere body odor causes blowflies to retch.

Now cry yourself into a corner of your mom's basement before I taunt you some more.

Re:24 hours straight? Dangerous! (1, Troll)

JockTroll (996521) | more than 4 years ago | (#32588978)

Correction: the plane doesn't have an autopilot nor, as it looks like, any self-leveling device. It looks very stable, however and most important the pilot is a Swiss Airforce pilot and hence a real jock. As a jock, his mental and physical shape is vastly superior to the average and his abilities are way beyond the lesser men to comprehend. I'm confident that he will be up to the challenge to the great envy and rage of the inferior speciment of humankind.

Re:24 hours straight? Dangerous! (1)

j35ter (895427) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589080)

his mental and physical shape is vastly superior to the average and his abilities are way beyond the lesser men to comprehend.

You mean he's on cocaine?

Re:24 hours straight? Dangerous! (3, Funny)

wisdom_brewing (557753) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589180)

I think the motivator of "If you fall asleep you die" should be sufficient to keep him alert...

Re:24 hours straight? Dangerous! (1)

chronosan (1109639) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589264)

Not enough to keep hundreds of thousands of motorists awake each year, why would it be different for this bloke?

Re:24 hours straight? Dangerous! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32589528)

because this guy is one indaviual, not the portion of the whole population who happen to screw it up. Also I garantee he's training for this so unlike a random motorist he'll be used to keeping alert for 24 hr by the time he's actually flying the plane.

Re:24 hours straight? Dangerous! (1)

Mister Whirly (964219) | more than 4 years ago | (#32590988)

You do realize that "a portion of the population" is just a bunch of individuals together, right?

"Oh my god...the population...it's made OF PEOPLE!"

Re:24 hours straight? Dangerous! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32589258)

The rules at Le Mans dictate that one person cannot attempt to drive the entire 24 hours by himself. To reduce fatigue, they cannot race more than 4 consecutive hours and no more than 14 hours in total.

Re:24 hours straight? Dangerous! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32588928)

For a single 24 hour shot, it's no real problem anyway, but for longer flights or back-to-back runs, you could always use amphetamines. The military does/has done such things, when needed.

Re:24 hours straight? Dangerous! (2, Insightful)

RMH101 (636144) | more than 4 years ago | (#32588956)

Yes, this occurred to me. Probably not legal for non-military purposes though as a) you've got to source them, and b) pilot a plane whilst using non-prescription drugs. I'm sure the local aviation authority would have something to say about the legality of the latter.

Re:24 hours straight? Dangerous! (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 4 years ago | (#32588938)

Ultralights are really flimsy. It would probably just give you a nasty bruise - and only if you weren't wearing a hat.

No autopilot? (2, Funny)

excelsior_gr (969383) | more than 4 years ago | (#32588906)

I can't believe that they couldn't allow even one of those inflatable ones [tikaro.com] because of the weight...

Re:No autopilot? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#32588974)

I can't believe that they couldn't allow even one of those inflatable ones [tikaro.com] because of the weight...

Probably the sexual harassment issue. You can't pay just anybody to keep in inflated.

What a feat! (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32588932)

It has the wingspan of a super jumbo jet, yet can only hold one person. It can fly endlessly, but not nearly as fast as jet based aircraft, and the whole body needs to be covered in expensive solar cells. Yeah. That's progress.

Seriously. The only practical use for this thing is as a proof of concept, or as a spy plane or mapper. There is no way in hell it will ever scale to commercial mass transit. I applaud their efforts though as it may lead to more efficient aircraft designs and energy storage technologies.

Unfortunately I think natural energy sources like solar, wind, etc. will be hard pressed to replace fossil fuels without more efficient energy storage and transportation. It's just too little and too diffused. To really solve our energy needs, we need much more efficient transportation and storage of energy. Storage is key. If you can reliably gather and store large amounts of energy, you could potentially harness the bigger energy sources around us, like lightning or the movement in the earth's crust. Of course fusion power would also be a great development, but it looks to be a long time until we can use that.

Re:What a feat! (3, Insightful)

MadnessASAP (1052274) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589094)

How about a radio relay? Or weather monitoring? Hell those are the 2 blindingly obvious ones that I can think of in 30 seconds I`m sure anybody here could list off a dozen uses for these with a few minutes work.

Re:What a feat! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32589154)

Ultimate transportation during an:

End of the world scenario such as:
a. Massive zombie outbreak
b. Accident with earthquake machine

Re:What a feat! (1)

s122604 (1018036) | more than 4 years ago | (#32590082)

I agree this is cool, but I don't know if the radio relay is commercially viable (perhaps in emergency and military situations but not in "normal" times")

A single high altitude airship, it has been proposed, hovering around 60K (feasible but expensive) feet just inland of NYC would have line of sight over the entire NYC, Connecticut, Rhode Island Northern New Jersey, and Philadelphia metropolitan areas

Sounds great, but nobody has ever made the dollars and cents work out when compared with terrestrial towers and services like directTV

Re:What a feat! (3, Insightful)

Alioth (221270) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589322)

The Wright Flyer was hardly a practical invention, either. But if we'd just listened to the naysayers, we wouldn't make any progress at all.

A low power electric aircraft, even without the solar cells and a battery pack instead, would have a great deal of uses where local flying is needed - for example, traffic reporting, news gathering and reporting (replacing expensive, thirsty and (to many people) obnoxiously noisy helicopters), law enforcement, aerial photography, recreational flying, radio relay, fish spotting, pipeline patrol, powerline patrol.

Projects like this which push material and electrical power delivery technology may move us a step nearer to practical, usable low powered clean, quiet electric aircraft for many of these jobs.

Re:What a feat! (1)

FishTankX (1539069) | more than 4 years ago | (#32596146)

What part of this aircraft's electrical generation systems could not be replaced by a bigger lithium battery pack and ground charging? If it's flying through a significant portion of night, i'd imagine a bumped up battery pack would be able to power this thing on charge alone for atleast 6-7 hours.

Re:What a feat! (1)

cdrnet (1582149) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589370)

Who claimed the purpose of this project is anything other than a proof of concept and to push "awareness"?

Just like the rest of his family with all their explorations:

Auguste Piccard (aeronaut, balloonist, hydronaut)
Jacques Piccard (hydronaut)
Jean Felix and Jeanette Piccard (aeronaut, balloonist)
Don Piccard (balloonist)
Bertrand Piccard (aeronaut, balloonist) ...

Re:What a feat! (1)

AigariusDebian (721386) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589426)

There are only two energy sources on Earth - nuclear (fission/fussion) and solar (well, also tidal). The rest (including wind, biodiesel and even oil and coal) are just transformed and/or stored solar energy. We need to get closer to the source of all this energy technologically, so that we waste less of it - biodesel collects solar energy, stores it into chemical energy, that is then converted into useful mechanical energy via internal combustion. Solar cells + batteries + electrical motors are far more efficient than that. Even solar cells -> water hydrogen separation -> hydrogen fuel cells -> electrical motors is more efficient. Yes - we need to balance scalability and cost by means of mass production, but the end goal is end-to-end efficiency.

Re:What a feat! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32589864)

Geothermal?

Re:What a feat! (1)

ThosLives (686517) | more than 4 years ago | (#32590056)

...but the end goal is end-to-end efficiency

Sadly, the most thermodynamically efficient solution is not necessarily the most economically or socially efficient solution.

here's a hint: (1)

Thud457 (234763) | more than 4 years ago | (#32592874)

solar is also nuclear power. They just located the solar system's central fusion reactor 93 million miles away.

hmmmm, I would claim all power eventually comes from nuclear sources, but then you brought up tidal. That's just extracting existing potential energy, but damn if I can explain where it came from originally...

Ancestor of Jean Luc? (2, Funny)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 4 years ago | (#32588992)

I just have this to say to you Mr. Picard, "make it so!"

Land of the Midnight Sun (1)

Tisha_AH (600987) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589320)

If it was not spelled out in the rules I would pick a place further to the north where the sun does not set at this time of the year. Then they could get a full 24 hours of sunlight to drive the motors.

When the sun goes down the aircraft will either need to glide or operate off of power from batteries. If the sun "did not" go down for 24 hours you could sustain flight without batteries or by depending upon gliding. Then the only limit is how long the pilot(s) could remain in the air.

Re:Land of the Midnight Sun (1)

tibit (1762298) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589394)

I'd be worried that low incidence angle lowers the available energy flux to useless levels...

Re:Land of the Midnight Sun (1)

robot256 (1635039) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589892)

You can get quite a lot of solar energy at upper latitudes, so long as your panels are pointed sideways (at the sun) instead of up. Also if there is snow you can capture the reflection off the snow and exceed the direct sunlight capture rate. I am working on a solar-powered rover to run on the Greenland ice sheet and our tests show even a panel facing away from the sun will collect 30% of nominal power from reflections alone.

But pointing all your solar panels sideways would be kind of hard on an airplane, where the most available surface is on the wings pointing straight up.

Re:Land of the Midnight Sun (1)

SleazyRidr (1563649) | more than 4 years ago | (#32594842)

Just fly all the way around the world in your 24 hours. That's the easy way to stay in sunlight.

One word it it's indeed possible ... (2)

Artem Tashkinov (764309) | more than 4 years ago | (#32589342)

... it's magic!

Not in the sense it's something beyond the laws of Physics but something we could only dream of just dozens of years ago.

It's exciting to live in this era.

Ultralight? Actually, not. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32590414)

"... and seeing the amount of energy increasing instead of decreasing as on a normal aircraft."

More realistically, at night the craft is totally decreasing energy as it depletes its batteries. The real test is to see if it can sustain ample altitude during the night until the solar panels are able to harvest energy the following morning.

Still, this is a huge leap for solar power and represents a great accomplishment. I'm sure the military is watching closely. Sustained flight with solar power is a holy grail...until compact thorium nuclear becomes feasible!!!

It only works when you travel West (1)

edfardos (863920) | more than 4 years ago | (#32590454)

I'm guessing it only works when you launch in the morning and fly west, seeing how you'd get more daylight hours :) --edfardos

Re:It only works when you travel West (1)

pdhenry (671887) | more than 4 years ago | (#32590850)

If you're not flying really fast (a bit over 1000 miles/hr) you'd still run into issues as daylight outran you. At least when flying east the night would be shorter...

Re:It only works when you travel West (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32591688)

If you're not flying really fast (a bit over 1000 miles/hr) you'd still run into issues as daylight outran you.

Only at the equator.

Did no one notice? (1)

Thelasko (1196535) | more than 4 years ago | (#32591290)

They are planning the first night flight to be close to the summer solstice. [wikipedia.org] I suspect they will conduct their initial testing during while the day's are longer, and continue testing as they get shorter.

If they can fly all night north of 22 degrees latitude, and past the fall equinox, I will be extremely impressed.

Direction of travel (1)

LoudMusic (199347) | more than 4 years ago | (#32592400)

I imagine if you fly west during the day and east during the night you could stay powered a long time. I'd still like to see someone build an unmanned craft that can stay in flight indefinitely powered by Sun and battery.

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