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Solar-Powered Plane Making 24-hour Flight

timothy posted about 4 years ago | from the good-luck-and-godspeed dept.

Transportation 85

After technical glitches threw a kink in its schedule, Solar Impulse, the solar-powered plane first mentioned here in June, has finally taken off. Reader asukasoryu writes "An experimental solar-powered plane took off from western Switzerland on Wednesday for a 24-hour test flight — a key step in a historic effort to one day circle the globe using only energy collected from the sun. The plane left Payerne airfield shortly before 7 a.m. after overcoming an equipment problem that delayed a previous attempt. Although the goal is to show that emissions-free air travel is possible, the team says it doesn't see solar technology replacing conventional jet propulsion any time soon. Instead, the project is designed to test and promote new energy-efficient technologies." You can follow the flight's progress at the project's site.

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"Only collected from the Sun" (0, Troll)

diablovision (83618) | about 4 years ago | (#32828184)

Fossil fuels store ancient solar energy...perhaps the poster meant "with only energy recently collected from the Sun"?

What if a solar plant produced gasoline as its output...would that count as "solar powered"?

Re:"Only collected from the Sun" (5, Funny)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 4 years ago | (#32828270)

All energy can be traced back to the Big Bang. Therefore I'm going to fail to see any relevant differences between any form of energy today and call that being smart.

Re:"Only collected from the Sun" (-1, Offtopic)

ajayprathore111 (1848136) | about 4 years ago | (#32828540)

gsd dhasgdgid duasduytdrdnb bsjuuiau hsausuaus suyaffdf jauyusysyys

Re:"Only collected from the Sun" (0, Offtopic)

BangaIorean (1848966) | about 4 years ago | (#32828802)

Fuckin' spammer

Re:"Only collected from the Sun" (-1, Offtopic)

ajayprathore111 (1848136) | about 4 years ago | (#32828588)

hiii I have a outdoor wall lights for the porch which helps to make your home good looking ,it also has outdoor wall sconces [] .....

Re:"Only collected from the Sun" (1)

A beautiful mind (821714) | about 4 years ago | (#32829186)

Hah! All of you Big Bangers!

Right before the Big Bang began, energy can be traced back to a singularity occupying zero space and infinite density. You Big Bangers want to blur the picture by creating a difference between 1 second after the Big Bang and 13 billion years, as if it would matter!

Therefor I'm going to fail to see any relevant differences between any form of energy or any form of timescale and definition of time and call that being smart.

Re:"Only collected from the Sun" (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 4 years ago | (#32829610)

Singularity? What are you talking about? The Big Bang refers to when the Cosmic He-Turtle got it on with his number one lady the Cosmic She-Turtle.

And before you ask where the energy for that came from, it's turtle-humpings all the way down.

re: Only collected from the sun (3, Interesting)

s122604 (1018036) | about 4 years ago | (#32828244)

I submitted an article recently about that very thing: C02 + Solar Power = Petrol or petrol like substance. (in theory at least) []

Re: Only collected from the sun (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32829026)

Hi, AC here, as a veteran I'd like to introduce you to a concept called the "reply button." Try it out some time!

I just want to tell you both good luck. (5, Funny)

gregleimbeck (975759) | about 4 years ago | (#32828254)

We’re all counting on you.

Re:I just want to tell you both good luck. (1)

AnonymousClown (1788472) | about 4 years ago | (#32828560)

We’re all counting on you.

Surely you can't mean that.

Re:I just want to tell you both good luck. (1)

sharkey (16670) | about 4 years ago | (#32828678)

Don't call me Shirley.

Re:I just want to tell you both good luck. (1)

getmerexkramer (955191) | about 4 years ago | (#32834224)

Shit, this is a goddamn waste of time.

Re:I just want to tell you both good luck. (0, Offtopic)

CODiNE (27417) | about 4 years ago | (#32828832)

This is what part of the alphabet would look like if Q and R were eliminated.

You mean Q and X?
Not to mention C, G, J, U, V, Y and Z?

There's an R in "part".

Eh I don't get it.

Does it have a name? (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | about 4 years ago | (#32828298)

If not, perhaps Icarus? j/k

Re:Does it have a name? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32830584)

Makes sense. Maybe you'll want to name the new solar powered boat "Titanic" while you're at it?

History Made (1)

helix2301 (1105613) | about 4 years ago | (#32828302)

It's nice to see the plane finally able to take off some many people have worked very hard at this project and I am glad to see them finally have there success. I always like to see these history making days that you will remember forever.

Song (1)

Robotron23 (832528) | about 4 years ago | (#32828426)

For this aircraft's maiden flight, there should be an online vote in which a song is selected to accompany its sun-powered ascendency to the skies. I will submit an adaptation of the Katrina in the Waves timeless classic 'Walking on Sunshine':

'Flying on Sunshine'

I used to think when you made me I'd crash for sure
And I just cant wait till the day when you charge me a little more
Now everytime I go for the horizon, gotta hold myself down
Cos I just wait till you touch me when rising around

I'm flying on sunshine! Whoa-oh!
I'm flying on sunshine! Whoa-oh!
I'm flying on sunshine! Whoa-oh!
and don't I charge good!

Hey, alright now!
Don't I charge good!
Hey yeh!

I used to think maybe you warmed me, now I know that its true
but I don't want to spend all my life, basking in you
now I don't want u there for the weekend
not everyday , no no no
I said baby I just want to go back to my hangar and I wanna stay

Woah Yeah!
I'm flying on sunshine , wooah
I'm flying on sunshine, woooah
I'm flying on sunshine, woooah
and don't it feel good!!

Hey , alright now
and don't it feel good!!
hey yeh ,oh yeh
Sun! Take it away!

(The sun's rap solo)

Baby I know I brighten your day, with my rays,
Just like I do most peoples' holidays
But one thing I know, and I think you know too
Is that me, the sun; I'm real good for you

Shining; blinding; setting; risin'
I give it to you just how you like it plane!
So if you takin' off today, just remember to look
for me in the sky, or else you in trouble like this poetry.

Re:Song (1)

camionbleu (1633937) | about 4 years ago | (#32828616)

I just hope it won't be David Bowie's 'Memory of a Free Festival': "Sun machine is going down and we're gonna have a party..."

It's also appropriate for SPARC servers that are preparing for shutdown.

This is great, but... (1)

TwiztidK (1723954) | about 4 years ago | (#32828430)

It's fantastic that air travel can now be powered using solar enery alone, but I think that our real emphasis needs to be on needs to be the successful implementation of renewable energy sources in automobiles. Sure, planes use a lot of fuel, but I'm sure that the millions of cars and trucks driven every day are burning through our resources much faster.

Re:This is great, but... (1)

99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) | about 4 years ago | (#32828520)

I think that our real emphasis needs to be on needs to be the successful implementation of renewable energy sources in automobiles.

I sort of agree. Rather, I think we should be focusing on electric cars and simultaneously technology to renewably and without pollution, generate massive amounts of electricity. Nuclear, solar, wind, tidal, other... it needs to funded as research projects with assessment of efficiency and impact. We could start by taking all the money we subsidize oil companies with and redirecting it. Then we could start taxing all industries that profit by creating a part of a polluting product (oil, coal, gas powered devices, etc.) and adding that into the pool. I mean seriously, is there any significant portion of any electoral base in the US that wouldn't vote for ending subsidies to oil companies if it were up for a vote?

Re:This is great, but... (1)

BangaIorean (1848966) | about 4 years ago | (#32828644)

" I mean seriously, is there any significant portion of any electoral base in the US that wouldn't vote for ending subsidies to oil companies if it were up for a vote? "

Don't get your hopes too high. I don't know all that much about the US, but here, the oil subsidies on petrol were taken away completely last week and boy - what a ruckus it's causing! The amount of stupidity in humans must not be underestimated.

Re:This is great, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32837828)

Um, do you have any clue how many things are made out of oil?

Almost everything that's plastic is made from petrochemicals, and many things that used to be made of metal are now made of plastic.

So you're not just dealing with oil company lobbyists (which is who you really have to fight) but also the lobbyists for every industry that uses petrochemically derived materials for the products they produce.

Including, but not limited to the computer you're typing on.

Re:This is great, but... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32828600)

It's fantastic that air travel can now be powered using solar enery alone, but I think that our real emphasis needs to be on needs to be the successful implementation of renewable energy sources in automobiles.

We aren't playing Civilization here. We can research more than one thing at a time.

Re:This is great, but... (1)

Jorth (1074589) | about 4 years ago | (#32837918)

But then you are just spreading those precious beakers around! =( I want tech breakthroughs in less turns... Oh and I want Leonard Nimoy to read out the breakthroughs to me too!

Re:This is great, but... (1)

natehoy (1608657) | about 4 years ago | (#32828674)

Air "travel" (as in, transporting people) cannot be powered using solar energy with our current technology. This craft is the result of a lot of brainpower and hard work and good technology, but can't carry a single person. So translating solar power into human travel isn't really even near-term practical for ground-based transportation until we are ready to abandon the 2-ton SUV and even the hybrid and go REALLY light, as in bicycle weight, and maybe provide some of the motive power ourselves.

Still, experiments like this move the technology forward and allow humanity to learn and refine what we know.

More interesting in the near term, however, is that a craft like this could theoretically replace a satellite, or several dozen cell towers (assuming you could get enough power up there to run the transmitters), at a comparatively low cost.

Have it fly in lazy circles up above most of the weather where the sun is always out during daytime, and you have easily-replaced communications repeaters located far closer than Near Earth Orbit. To maintain the equipment on one, you simply tell it to land. You can afford to have spares flying around ready to take over for lost capacity if one fails or needs to come down for maintenance.

Re:This is great, but... (1)

teh kurisu (701097) | about 4 years ago | (#32840198)

can't carry a single person.

I take it you mean a single passenger? This wasn't a UAV, it had a pilot.

Re:This is great, but... (1)

loshwomp (468955) | about 4 years ago | (#32829064)

I think that our real emphasis needs to be on needs to be the successful implementation of renewable energy sources in automobiles.

That will go a long way, but there will not be single solution. Conservation is another approach with great potential: Our own wastefulness is a huge resource, waiting to be tapped.

Re:This is great, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32829522)

The issue I see is how this can be used for any real gain, I can understand the concept of solar powered planes being a 24hr repository of energy continuously collecting solar energy perhaps even storing it then landing and dumping the energy then going back up for another 24hrs. You could have dozens of them all working together (could even use iPods flight control game as a landing instrument :))

But the shear number of planes (cost of building these things) and materials used for storing the energy and the amount of maintenance they'd use. We are back at Toyota Prius again, sounds good advertised but really they do nearly as much damage to the environment with the construction of their battery cells than if you were using normal fuel anyway.

Besides who are we kidding? commercial travel? Again with the Toyota Prius, are we going to see hybrid planes in the near future? if so see the above points raised.

Re:This is great, but... (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | about 4 years ago | (#32830656)

"It's fantastic that air travel can now be powered using solar enery alone,"
No it can't. This is a UAV and can not carry people so next.
"I think that our real emphasis needs to be on needs to be the successful implementation of renewable energy sources in automobiles."
An electric car and a dam, solar panels for charging, breeder reactor, or windmill. Next.

There it is done for you.
Or you can use Menthol, Bio Diesel, or Ethanol as well all of which are renewable. Yes I know the issues with Ethanol but most of those issues go away when you use sugar cane and not corn.
Also methane is an option and can be made in a renewable manner.

Re:This is great, but... (1)

TwiztidK (1723954) | about 4 years ago | (#32831800)

"It's fantastic that air travel can now be powered using solar enery alone," No it can't. This is a UAV and can not carry people so next.

Where are you getting this information? The original story [] referred to its last flight as the "first ever manned night flight on a plane propelled exclusively by the power it collects from the sun." It is an ultralight, but it is not a UAV.

Re:This is great, but... (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | about 4 years ago | (#32832020)

my bad since it was a 24 hour flight I thought it was unmanned.
Of course it still can not carry people It is a single seater so it can only carry a single person. Yea that is a wiggle out but you are correct. Still in no way a practical form of transport and never will be.
Even is solar cells where 100% efficent which they never can be there isn't enough energy density to make a solar powered 737 much less a solar powered 747.
Solar impulse is producing around 8 HP. Just to make the math easy let's say that their system is 1% efficient.
At 100% you are still only talking about 800HP which is around half the HP of a 1930s DC-3. And that is with an Airbus size wing and tail full of solar cells.
So nope this for human transport is never going to be practical. For UAVs yes and those could be very useful indeed.
Actually I am kind of disappointed to see them try a manned flight. An unmanned flight would be just as important and would be far safer.

Re:This is great, but... (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 4 years ago | (#32832754)

Why do the solar panels need to be on the plane?

Huge solar thermal plant, crack water, make Jet A from H O and C from air. Result is a solar powered 747.

Re:This is great, but... (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | about 4 years ago | (#32834062)

Yes that would work but like my original posts in really already is possible. It comes down to price.

Daft Punk (1)

somaTh (1154199) | about 4 years ago | (#32828448)

Am I the only one with "Around the World" stuck in their head right now?

Re:Daft Punk (1)

Robotron23 (832528) | about 4 years ago | (#32828482)

I've got the melody, intro, outtro and everything else memorized for that song...except the lyrics.

cities heat too rapidly & cool too slowly (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32828468)

that's the problem as we're reading it on yahoo.?news? it has nothing to do with the failing atmosphere, or manufactured 'weather'. faulty cities. who'd of thought? we're having water tubes installed on our tin foil hats.

the corepirate nazi illuminati is always hunting that patch of red on almost everyones' neck. if they cannot find yours (greed, fear ego etc...) then you can go starve. that's their (slippery/slimy) 'platform' now. see also:

never a better time to consult with/trust in our creators. the lights are coming up rapidly all over now. see you there?

greed, fear & ego (in any order) are unprecedented evile's primary weapons. those, along with deception & coercion, helps most of us remain (unwittingly?) dependent on its' life0cidal hired goons' agenda. most of our dwindling resources are being squandered on the 'wars', & continuation of the billionerrors stock markup FraUD/pyramid schemes. nobody ever mentions the real long term costs of those debacles in both life & any notion of prosperity for us, or our children. not to mention the abuse of the consciences of those of us who still have one, & the terminal damage to our atmosphere (see also: manufactured 'weather', hot etc...). see you on the other side of it? the lights are coming up all over now. the fairytail is winding down now. let your conscience be your guide. you can be more helpful than you might have imagined. we now have some choices. meanwhile; don't forget to get a little more oxygen on your brain, & look up in the sky from time to time, starting early in the day. there's lots going on up there.

"The current rate of extinction is around 10 to 100 times the usual background level, and has been elevated above the background level since the Pleistocene. The current extinction rate is more rapid than in any other extinction event in earth history, and 50% of species could be extinct by the end of this century. While the role of humans is unclear in the longer-term extinction pattern, it is clear that factors such as deforestation, habitat destruction, hunting, the introduction of non-native species, pollution and climate change have reduced biodiversity profoundly.' (wiki)

"I think the bottom line is, what kind of a world do you want to leave for your children," Andrew Smith, a professor in the Arizona State University School of Life Sciences, said in a telephone interview. "How impoverished we would be if we lost 25 percent of the world's mammals," said Smith, one of more than 100 co-authors of the report. "Within our lifetime hundreds of species could be lost as a result of our own actions, a frightening sign of what is happening to the ecosystems where they live," added Julia Marton-Lefevre, IUCN director general. "We must now set clear targets for the future to reverse this trend to ensure that our enduring legacy is not to wipe out many of our closest relatives."--

"The wealth of the universe is for me. Every thing is explicable and practical for me .... I am defeated all the time; yet to victory I am born." --emerson

no need to confuse 'religion' with being a spiritual being. our soul purpose here is to care for one another. failing that, we're simply passing through (excess baggage) being distracted/consumed by the guaranteed to fail illusionary trappings of man'kind'. & recently (about 10,000 years ago) it was determined that hoarding & excess by a few, resulted in negative consequences for all.

consult with/trust in your creators. providing more than enough of everything for everyone (without any distracting/spiritdead personal gain motives), whilst badtolling unprecedented evile, using an unlimited supply of newclear power, since/until forever. see you there?

"If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." )one does not need to agree whois in charge to grasp the notion that there may be some assistance available to us(

boeing, boeing, gone.

Re:cities heat too rapidly & cool too slowly (1)

tophermeyer (1573841) | about 4 years ago | (#32828626)

I'm sorry, but I can't really tell if that was a serious paranoid rant or a satirical paranoid rant. Either way though, I am impressed that you managed to like the thermal properties of cities with mammalian extinction, a DSM recognized disorder, and Yahoo News.

Either "bravo" or "loosen up the tinfoil hat dude" are appropriate here. I just can't figure out which to save my life.

thank you (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32828956)

many are unable to see the connection(s)

Re:cities heat too rapidly & cool too slowly (1)

Demonantis (1340557) | about 4 years ago | (#32828816)

I thought they got rid of that emails to editors thing...oh it's a comment.

Re:cities heat too rapidly & cool too slowly (1)

Bitch-Face Jones (588723) | about 4 years ago | (#32828940)

was this post generated automatically with some sort of markov chain or are you just really crazy

Emissions free where? (1)

OzPeter (195038) | about 4 years ago | (#32828564)

At the point of final energy usage? Or at the point of original manufacturing? Or at the point of energy generation for the manufacturing plant?

Re:Emissions free where? (1)

sumdumass (711423) | about 4 years ago | (#32828968)

How about at the point of usage. The other points you mention are pretty much insignificant at this point seeing how the purpose was to show that solar energy can be created and used when the sun isn't shining. We still cannot wave a magic wand or trick some omnipotent being into speaking the stuff into existence, so for now, we have to build from what we can in order to move into what we want.

Re:Emissions free where? (1)

loshwomp (468955) | about 4 years ago | (#32829030)

Emissions free where? At the point of final energy usage?

I'm probably feeding a troll, because this shouldn't have to be spelled out every time: Obviously it means no emissions at the vehicle itself (which is quite valuable, all else being equal) and, as with electric road vehicles, reduced upstream emissions due to improved efficiency, multiple energy sources, and simpler manufacturing.

Re:Emissions free where? (1)

OzPeter (195038) | about 4 years ago | (#32829992)

Emissions free where? At the point of final energy usage?

I'm probably feeding a troll

No I am not trolling. But it seems like every time there is a story on alternative energy their seems to be a magical, overall-systems-impact-denying aura about them. And without clearly reporting on what is going on the general public will get misled into believing in magical energy and environment pixies.

A classic example is the electric vehicles you mentioned. Yes they have all the benefits that you mentioned (but no mention of mining and purifying etc of the additional minerals), but there was an IEEE article earlier this year that pointed out that the domestic power infrastructure can't handle an onslaught of plug in chargers. The system was designed with peak daytime usage in mind and requires an overnight cooling cycle. So there will be additional hidden cost in upgrading that infrastructure. So unless the overall system is correctly considered then people will have unrealistic expectations - which was the point I was originally trying to make.

Or to put it another way TANSTAAFL

Not emissions-free (2, Informative)

noidentity (188756) | about 4 years ago | (#32828574)

Although the goal is to show that emissions-free air travel is possible

This plane is not emissions-free, since there were some in its manufacture, which must be divided over its lifetime, and then whatever emissions are involved in the disposal/recycling of the craft as well. Lower-emissions, sure, but not emissions-free.

Re:Not emissions-free (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32828672)

>> This plane is not emissions-free

Blah, blah, blah. I'll bet you're not emissions free either.

Re:Not emissions-free (1, Insightful)

Jeng (926980) | about 4 years ago | (#32829182)

Under your criteria thinking about a subject would make it no longer emission free since the body emits waste products while thinking.

Why even plants emit, are you going to bitch about that also?

Re:Not emissions-free (2, Funny)

e2d2 (115622) | about 4 years ago | (#32829452)

Don't get me started on plants. Plants are the scourge of the earth. Rocks are where it's at.

Re:Not emissions-free (1)

noidentity (188756) | about 4 years ago | (#32829930)

I'm merely pointing out that it's not emissions-free. Why claim so when it's not so? I was actually going to comment on the humans involved also using significant amounts of fuel, but I didn't want to go too far. I guess I still went too far in pointing out the truth of this emissions-free plane. Sorry for offending you. Next time I'll go along with the bandwagon, and claim that non-plug-in hybrid cars run on more than just gasoline.

Re:Not emissions-free (1)

caseih (160668) | about 4 years ago | (#32830326)

Can't let you get away with such an obtuse, Republican comment. You're deliberately missing the point and confusing the issue. The CO2 you breath out in the course of living isn't the problem. It's the net CO2 that's the problem. For thousands of years humans have been carbon neutral. You burn sugars produced by plants using photosynthesis to convert CO2 in the air to sugar. Zero net carbon increase in the environment. This is completely different from the millions of tons of CO2 that our modern manufacturing (heck even food production) now releases into the air that *wasn't there before*. Thus even a zero-emission car still required fossil fuels being burned to manufacture it. That's what he's talking about.

Re:Not emissions-free (2, Informative)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 4 years ago | (#32829196)

They are referring to emissions during operation.

Re:Not emissions-free (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32830012)

By that logic, nothing, not even a fully decomposed dead person or a chunk of pumice, can ever be emissions-free either.

If the *plane* gives off no emissions, the *plane* is emissions-free.

Good Start... (1)

BangaIorean (1848966) | about 4 years ago | (#32828590)

I had my hopes high for a moment - I imagined a huge plane the size of a Boeing 747.. silly me ;-) This is an excellent start though...

Re:Good Start... (1)

edelholz (1098395) | about 4 years ago | (#32829034)

The wingspan compares to that of a 747...

Pointless & Stupid (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32828696)

Technology is as advanced as it will ever be! We do not need people experimenting with new things just to see if it can be done, we need people to continue buying and consuming existing technologies in order to make sure the products and industries we have now continue to be profitable without change. Change is bad. People who try new things are bad. Bad bad bad.

Re:Pointless & Stupid (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32828986)

Uh, it's about physics. We've pretty much hit a wall in terms of energy. It *is* pointless to try "new" things when they are just pointless demos like this.

Work it out: 60000 gallons of kerosene can transport 400 people and half a million pounds of airplane across the Atlantic in six hours.

Please find out the energy density of kerosene, the efficiency of the turbines, and what equivalent size solar power plant you'd need for the same thing.

Now put it in the air. At 600 miles per hour.

Good luck.

Good Shit (1)

AthleteMusicianNerd (1633805) | about 4 years ago | (#32828994)

Congratulations to those who got it working!

Not enough information (5, Insightful)

jklovanc (1603149) | about 4 years ago | (#32829048)

I have issues with the project web site and the lack of information. One of my main issues is that the site touts the use of new technology but nowhere does it explain exactly what "new" technology it uses. What is it's cruising speed? If it is over 50Kmph I would be surprised.

Another important issue is that it never states is the batteries were full or empty at takeoff and how much of that battery power was used to get the plane to altitude. What if the energy used was only 20% of capacity and the main method of altitude gain was thermals and mountain wave? Recharging that 20% should not be an issue. What then happens if the plane requires 80% of the battery capacity to stay up over night? They would last one night but run out half way through the second night.

I always love obvious spin. When asked when the non stop around the world flight will happen the site says "60 years between the first world tour with stopovers and the first world tour without stopovers in a traditional motor airplane". On the other hand, when asked if solar airplanes will replace conventional airplanes they state "when the great Wright brothers got their first plane to fly a distance of 200 meters in 1903, could they have imagined that 66 years later, two men would walk on the moon?" The spin is that from the first flight to the moon landing there has always been increases in speed, capacity and duration aloft. This technology turn back the clock to a low speed single seater aircraft and assumes we can still advance as far.

An economically viable passenger plane would be required to carry passengers, be pressurized and go much faster; I am sure no one would want to take 100 hours to go from London to Newyork. This may require an energy output a hundred times that of the Solar Impulse. The current plane is already has a wing span of 63m. Even with a increase of solar panel efficiency to 80% that would require an increase in wing area by 25 times. That is one huge plane to carry a few people.

Today, gliders with no electric motors can stay aloft for extended periods of time. The gliding community has stopped tracking duration aloft records due to the dangers of exhaustion. Here are some other current glider records; altitude 12 637 m; distance 1078.2 km; speed over an out-and-return course of 1 000 km 133.89 km/h. What has been created is in effect a huge glider with a electric motor backup.

Re:Not enough information (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32829396)

Re:Not enough information (1)

feufeu (1109929) | about 4 years ago | (#32830186)

As you can see on the live tracking the airspeed isn't much above 50 km/h indeed.

Just for the sake of telling i know better : gliding records actually are more like 15000 m, 3000 km and 1000 km @ 200 km/h.

Re:Not enough information (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | about 4 years ago | (#32830702)

Then I guess that the records recorded by Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, The World Air Sports Federation, are incorrect. []

Re:Not enough information (1)

feufeu (1109929) | about 4 years ago | (#32830782)

Not that i am particularly macho, but you are looking at the feminine records. Scroll down !

Re:Not enough information (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | about 4 years ago | (#32831176)

Oops!! But it further illustrates my point that gliders have already done outstanding feats and the Solar Impulse is not all that impressive.

Re:Not enough information (1)

feufeu (1109929) | about 4 years ago | (#32831570)

I fully agree.

Let's do some guesswork and math. (One has to resort to this since the website doensn't contain much geek porn, but rather esoteric bullshit...)

The thing has a mass of 1600kg, which means there need to be ~16000N of lift for level flight. If the lift to drag ratio is a - guessed - 40 to 1 that translates to 400N of thrust. At a speed of 15m/s that's 6000W of power or, say 12000W if a conversion efficiency of 50% is taken into account. (Quite easily doable at that speed with modern props and electric motors.) Methanol has an energy density of ~24MJ/kg (according to Wikipedia) = 2000s of operation. This, in turn, means that 50kg of fuel will comfortably give a full 24h of operation.

Leave those solar cells on the ground and synthetisize methanol !

Disclaimer: all figures are rounded, but i don't think i'm off by an order of magnitude...

Re:Not enough information (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | about 4 years ago | (#32830538)

Yes but for UAVs this might be very interesting. Also a solar electric aircraft could have a very high ceiling since they do not require O2 for energy production.
All handy for a long duration UAV for communications or monitoring.
For carrying people.... Not anytime real soon IMHO.

Re:Not enough information (1)

e**(i pi)-1 (462311) | about 4 years ago | (#32831826)

I share some of the critics that not all information is visible on the website: The cruising speed is 70 km/h as can be seen in the technical data sheet. But I also did not find information on how much the batteries are loaded by take off.

For such projects, optimism and vision is important. Most people do not have that. Concerns like these would have killed any previous challenges. There were for example proofs that it is impossible to fly to the moon. They did not predict that one can build rockets with stages for example. One a few people of a million have the vision and the energy to go after such a project and that is why we admire it. Pessimism is poison in this game. Fortunately, there are some who do it nevertheless, even if it looks impossible.

Imagine to have solar powered tanking stations between continents, which solar powered planes could use to boost their batteries. Imagine much better solar panels, much better motors, better materials. Imagine many many planes, which constantly take off and land, day and night. No noise, silent transportation. Airports could be built closer to places where people live. This is technology which might be used in 50 years and which might be needed then.

ReNothing new here. (2, Interesting)

jklovanc (1603149) | about 4 years ago | (#32832814)

The reason I am not impressed is that there is no new technology in the aircraft. We already have solars cells, electric motors,ultralight construction and high aspect ratio sailplanes. A competent aeronautical engineer could have done the design and shown that it could easily work. Sure it is cool but it does not advance technology.

Re:ReNothing new here. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32833940)

if you want, that`s exactly the point: the technology is available - for a solar plane but more importantly to power the average resident, the average community. it can be done. the only problem is people sticking to coal power, for example.

100 hours (1)

zogger (617870) | about 4 years ago | (#32832534)

I don't know about that. An airfoil type plane, not happening, but a solar electric dirigible, cruising at a slower speed but in comfort..there might be a lot of people opt for a longer duration "air cruise" across oceans, etc. Pretty big surface area on a blimp or dirigible for some thin film solar cells... As to "business travel", I am seriously disappointed that in 2010 we still have meatsacks traveling all over heck when teleconferencing can do the job. Same with meatsacks commuting daily to *go sit in front of a keyboard and monitor* when they could be doing that in the home office and skip the commuting part.

Re:100 hours (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | about 4 years ago | (#32833150)

Yeah I am really going to spend 9 of my 14 day vacation cooped up in a zeppelin gondola looking at featureless ocean. There is a reason there are no trans Atlantic cruise ships any more.

Telecommuting has its limits. Try to have a meeting where a number of people are trying to contribute to a discussion. Try to keep track of everyone's mood and demeanour and display a drawing that would normally be on a 4'x6' whiteboard when all you can see is a 19" monitor. Much of a conversation is lost when you can not see everyone who is listening to a discussion.

Ha (1)

zogger (617870) | about 4 years ago | (#32833708)

Well, I guess you didn't know, but there are still a lot of trans Atlantic cruises going on. Just google it (I just did, exists a plenty). And a lot of people have longer than two weeks off, heck, a lot of people with cash to burn are this thing called "retired" now and can take all the time they want.

We can't settle this now because we have no long range zeppelin service, but my guess is when/if it happens again they'll be sold out all the time.

As to your teleconferencing, I thought all you VIP IT biz guys used multiple screens now, yes? I read that here all the dang time, you just ain't cool unless you have your own server setup and multiple screens (multiple good big screens equals cost of one airline ticket). So, one screen shows the whiteboard, one screen shows the crowd, one shows the presenter, etc. It's called normal camera work, pros do it all the time. On TV and stuff, maybe you've seen that, how they can magically shift around and focus on different things, or even use more than one camera at a time.....

This is a tech board, you are arguing against tech that exists now, saying it is impossible or something to be used more, instead of moving sacks of water and protein around expensively. Nuts. I mean dang, I'm an old curmudgeon and you got me beat with the entrenched luddism from the last century, ha! I'm just saying a lot of so called "necessary" biz travel..isn't, along with a lot of normal day to day commuting. 60 years ago and earlier, sure, necessary, but not so much today. There's mostly inertia against using the web more, that's all, but it's changing.

Re:Not enough information (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32833162)

What is it's cruising speed? If it is over 50Kmph I would be surprised.

Me too! 50,000 miles per hour is enough to get out of the Earth's atmosphere, and get to the moon fairly rapidly!

Re:Not enough information (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32834022)

the spin sounds sound to me: basically, they had to do it all over again, so who knows what will come out of this different species of an airplane in 100 years or so?

one speed figure i had seen on the live website was 26 knots, about 50 kmph.

There are applications (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 4 years ago | (#32835228)

Consider solar/electric civilian spotter drones in fire season. An aircraft doesn't need to be an SR-71 to be useful. A "huge glider with a electric motor backup" is useful if it's cheap enough.

Solar Impulse Twitter® stream (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 4 years ago | (#32829106)

You can follow the Solar Impulse Twitter® stream here: or here: . (1)

Mother Waddles (1829884) | about 4 years ago | (#32829620)

hmm..This is good news that we are developing something like this, but I would not feel safe in a solar powered plane.

Ever been in a sailplane? (1)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | about 4 years ago | (#32830940)

Irrationally, I feel safer in a sailplane than in a 747. But then I've been in the landing with the foam on the runway, and I'd rather be in something that's inherently airworthy and non-flam than in something that's a potential bomb.

Ah, but... (1)

blair1q (305137) | about 4 years ago | (#32830346)

Ah, but...can it fly while slashdotted?

Look at the telemetry! (2, Informative)

sshir (623215) | about 4 years ago | (#32830496)

Look at the real time charts [] . By "real time" I mean what altitude, power and speed are NOW
How cool is that!

Eastward flight? (1)

SmithKrieg (954547) | about 4 years ago | (#32833242)

Sure they can chase the sun to the west around the earth, but they may run into issues flying intercontinental in the opposite direction.

Re:Eastward flight? (1)

SmithKrieg (954547) | about 4 years ago | (#32833316)

Just opened website - nevermind.

Nothing new (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | about 4 years ago | (#32835934)

A composite ultralight aircraft with a wingspan similar to a jumbo jet covered in expensive solar cells does not sound cheap to me. Remember that this aircraft requires a large field to operate from. Oh yeah, considering the speed it could take hours to get to a fire.

BTW, there are already inexpensive drones available that can do that job.

Analysis (2, Interesting)

jklovanc (1603149) | about 4 years ago | (#32836492)

Now that the flight is over, lets take a look at a few of the numbers from [] .

1. They need a more accurate speed and altitude sensor. There are quite a few spikes in the charts. Some of them have "disappeared". They were probably fixed in the data by averaging.
2. They started with the battery 69% charged.
3. The low point in battery level was 46%
4. It took 7.5 hours to get to full charge.
5. When air temp decreased below 0 the efficiency of the solar cells also decreased dramatically.
6. For a 2.5 hour period when the engine power was at 4% with 0% solar charging the battery charge did not decrease; strange.
7. When the battery was used, it drained at about 10% per hour.
8. The airspeed was about 23kmph most of the time.

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