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Solar Impulse Announces Flight Across America For 2013

timothy posted about 2 years ago | from the no-checked-baggage dept.

Transportation 57

cylonlover writes "Flush with success from their 6,000-km (3,728-mile) Europe-to-Africa round-trip flight earlier this year, the duo behind the Solar Impulse solar-powered aircraft are now planning on flying it across America next spring. It will mark the first time that a solar-powered plane has traversed the country. Solar Impulse partners Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg made the official announcement this Tuesday, although the logistics of the flight have yet to be finalized. They have stated that the trip will be broken into 20-hour legs, starting at San Francisco and proceeding to New York City. As with their previous multi-leg flights, the two pilots will take turns flying the aircraft." You can read about it straight from the doers, too.

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hope they don't fly to seattle (2)

Nyder (754090) | about 2 years ago | (#42305869)

it's been raining here.

Re:hope they don't fly to seattle (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42305945)

There will be eco-crazies beating off to this all across the U.S.

Anyone who steps on an airplane is already using their own body weight (and then some) in carbon.

Re:hope they don't fly to seattle (5, Informative)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | about 2 years ago | (#42306369)

You're aware that the sun still shines above the clouds? You may be getting drenched, but 2000 feet up, it's likely a clean sunshiny day. If not - try 3000 feet. Still not happy? Climb some more.

Re:hope they don't fly to seattle (1)

rubycodez (864176) | about 2 years ago | (#42308347)

the sun shines above the average thunderstorms 35,000 foot height. good luck with that in your 23 MPH 40 HP solar prop plane

Re:hope they don't fly to seattle (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | about 2 years ago | (#42308413)

Average thunderstorms extend to 7 miles up in the atmosphere? Really? Odd - I've stopped on the mountainside above Las Cruces, New Mexico to watch thunderstorms pass below me. Ditto on dozens of other mountains. The airlines operate at about six miles. (not being a pilot, I don't understand the complexities of choosing a cruising altitude, but 30,000 feet seems to be the "norm") For the most part, their cruising altitudes are above the storms and turbulence. The vast majority of airline turbulence is experienced soon after takeoff, and soon before landing, at altitudes of less than 7000 feet.

NOTE that I have not claimed that turbulence ends at any point in the atmosphere, nor have I claimed that storms don't reach to any particular height. My claim is ONLY that the "average" thunderstorm doesn't reach up into the stratosphere. Aircraft capable of attaining an elevation of only 5000 feet will fly over many thunderstorms, squalls and showers.

Re:hope they don't fly to seattle (1)

rubycodez (864176) | about 2 years ago | (#42308849)

your claim is incorrect (basing anything on a local observation is not the way), look it up. As for the highest thunderstorms, over 70,000 feet

Re:hope they don't fly to seattle (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | about 2 years ago | (#42308907)

You're obviously missing the point. You cite the highest thunderstorms, completely neglecting that not all thunderstorms are "highest".

http://theweatherprediction.com/habyhints2/536/ [theweatherprediction.com]

I take it then, that those thunderstorms that I have observed from above, while parked on a mountain highway, were just freaks of nature?

Obviously, something as powerful as a hurricane will affect the atmosphere all the way up to the ozone layer. Localized storms, on the other hand, are often only a few thousand feet high. 70,000 feet is an exceptional storm, and even 40,000 feet is a pretty large, and powerful storm.

Re:hope they don't fly to seattle (1)

rubycodez (864176) | about 2 years ago | (#42336745)

you're missing the point, you are stating things from limited experience that have no basis in FACT. Even the average *rain* cloud is 15,000 feet, look it up.

Point of order (1)

the_Bionic_lemming (446569) | about 2 years ago | (#42305895)

It's not a non stop flight.

While it's good for solar energy, it's not really all that OMG'ish.

Re:Point of order (2)

letherial (1302031) | about 2 years ago | (#42305997)

Same thing could be said about the first rocket flight...however, look where it got us

Re:Point of order (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42306703)

it got us tons of bombs rained on our cities by the Germans.

Oh, and it's not a first. Flying a solar powered aircraft across America was first done in 1990.

Re:Point of order (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42307915)

We're all still right here on this planet, with a few type-A personalities floating around in a tree house for adults in the upper atmosphere.

Re:Point of order (1)

rubycodez (864176) | about 2 years ago | (#42308375)

a rocket has enough energy to do something useful, while a solar powered passenger plane never will.

Re:Point of order (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42306015)

duh. it's just a publicity tour

Re:Point of order (1)

rubycodez (864176) | about 2 years ago | (#42308361)

how is it good for solar energy? four ten horsepower motors pushing a sustainable 23 MPH doesn't awe me, it's like the 1,000 MPG go-carts that putt-putt around a circule track with the engine turning off and on. proves nothing and serves no purpose, and doesn't push any frontiers whatsoever.

How cheap? (2, Interesting)

simonbp (412489) | about 2 years ago | (#42305909)

This is obviously a prototype, but I wonder cheap you could make an operational system? Fuel costs are the the largest component of an aircraft's operating costs, and the most variable. Relatively slow (~100 mph) solar UAVs could make a lot of sense for UPS, FedEx, etc.

Re:How cheap? (3, Funny)

WWJohnBrowningDo (2792397) | about 2 years ago | (#42305939)

Solar planes aren't ideal for carrying cargo due to their low wing loading. This prototype can only carry 400kg of cargo for example.

They're perfect for surveillance, meteorology, and surveying, but they're terrible for moving large amounts of cargo very quickly.

Re:How cheap? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42305999)

Solar planes aren't ideal for carrying cargo due to their low wing loading. This prototype can only carry 400kg of cargo for example.

They're perfect for surveillance, meteorology, and surveying, but they're terrible for moving large amounts of cargo very quickly.

OK, surveillance and surveying I can see, but since when was Amazon.com into meteorology?

Re:How cheap? (3, Interesting)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | about 2 years ago | (#42306377)

400 kg of cargo? Almost half a ton? About the payload carried around in most cars and SUV's? Not bad for local deliveries, if you can just work out a safe vertical takeoff and landing. UPS often sends trucks out carrying less than a ton of cargo!

Re:How cheap? (3, Interesting)

WWJohnBrowningDo (2792397) | about 2 years ago | (#42306423)

I guess I was still thinking inside the box and thought that GP was suggesting using these to replace the cargo jets that transfer goods between distribution centers. Now that you mentioned it, it is indeed excellent for local deliveries. No need to worry about the landing part, just parachute the package down.

Most Fedex/UPS trucks load up once in the morning, spend all day out delivering, and return in the afternoon/evening. Solar planes can follow the same schedule; take off in the morning and land in the afternoon.

Re:How cheap? (1)

Ol Biscuitbarrel (1859702) | about 2 years ago | (#42306507)

Wiki lists "Loaded weight" at 1,600 kg (3,500 lb) and "Max. takeoff weight" at 2,000 kg (4,400 lb). The latter is actually listed as "Maximum weight" at the source article, which is 3 years older than the one for the loaded weight. This, I think, is conflating the loaded weights of the 1st prototype (HB-SIA) with the 2nd one (HB-SIB), giving the impression that the plane has massive cargo capacity. In actuality shots of the pilot in the cabin suggest he has barely enough room for water bottles/sack lunch/piss jar.

Re:How cheap? (1)

WWJohnBrowningDo (2792397) | about 2 years ago | (#42306669)

Thanks for pointing it out. I had a feeling 400kg was kinda high for a plane this light; should've went to their site for the data instead of blindly relying on Wikipedia.

Re:How cheap? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 2 years ago | (#42306791)

Not bad for local deliveries, if you can just work out a safe vertical takeoff and landing.

That takes a hell of a lot more energy. You can carry 0kg of cargo or you can take off and land horizontally.

Re:How cheap? (1)

mpe (36238) | about 2 years ago | (#42307285)

Solar planes aren't ideal for carrying cargo due to their low wing loading. This prototype can only carry 400kg of cargo for example.

The 400kg in the article refers to the batteries. I suspect the only way you could get this thing to carry any cargo would be to remove the cockpit and convert it to a UAV.

Re:How cheap? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42306687)

You have no idea how hostile the FAA is to aviation. This will not fly in a certified aircraft in my lifetime, nor, likely, my kids.

Re:How cheap? (1)

Sulphur (1548251) | about 2 years ago | (#42307881)

You have no idea how hostile the FAA is to aviation. This will not fly in a certified aircraft in my lifetime, nor, likely, my kids.

Especially not on impulse power.

Challenge level: beginner (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42305911)

If they want to make it impressive then try it at night.

Re:Challenge level: beginner (1)

O('_')O_Bush (1162487) | about 2 years ago | (#42305983)

They fly 24 hrs a day...?

Re:Challenge level: beginner (5, Interesting)

jklovanc (1603149) | about 2 years ago | (#42306107)

No they didn't. They flew mostly during the day. Notice the flight was May to July during the longer days of the year. They also spent a significant time gaining altitude using thermals and local lift conditions to conserve battery power. Evidence if this is quote from the Africa trip article.

On its final leg from Toulouse to Payerne, Solar Impulse traveled 615 km (382 miles) in 13 hours 29 minutes at an average speed of 63 km/h (39 mph) and at an average altitude of 3,596 meters (11,800 ft).

If the average speed was 63 km/h and it flew for 13.5 hours it should have gone 850km. Since the distance is only 615 km, where did the other 235 km go? That is almost 28% of the movement. They went to spiraling in thermals and searching for other form of lift to conserve power. It's real average speed if measured as progress toward its destination is closer to 45 km/h. Sorry but Solar Impulse is not an electric powered aircraft. It is a high performance sailplane with a very expensive electric motor to help it get from lift condition to lift condition. It's real average speed if measured as progress toward its destination is closer to 45 km/h.

If you want to impress me do it in November-December in the Northern Hemisphere and fly in a straight line.

Re:Challenge level: beginner (2)

Bomazi (1875554) | about 2 years ago | (#42306545)

You are missing the point. Their objective is not to to develop a practical solar aircraft but to circumnavigate the globe with one.

Thus their plane only has to be good enough for that purpose. In particular it doesn't matter if it can't fly during the winter solstice or if it is slow.

Note also that aggressively exploiting currents and thermals was already a key part of the strategy of Breitling Orbiter 3, from some of the same people.

Re:Challenge level: beginner (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | about 2 years ago | (#42308449)

Breitling Orbiter is a balloon that uses altitude changes initiated by burning propane or releasing gas to change altitude and reach different flows of wind. It is completely different than a sailplane gaining altitude so it can use that potential energy to glide to a new source of lift. You are comparing apples to oranges. Breitling Orbiter carried it's own thermal lift in the form of fuel; Solar Challenge doesn't and will fail over large bodies of water where there is no natural lift.

Re:Challenge level: beginner (1)

Bomazi (1875554) | about 2 years ago | (#42314429)

I don't understand where you got the idea that solar impulse cannot climb on its own. It is not a sailplane. It has solar panels and engines. They allow it to climb during the day and charge the battery. This energy (chemical and gravitational) is then available for the night. That it can gain more energy during the day than it consumes at night has been proven during their first 24h flight. Although of course it is only true around the summer solstice.

Re:Challenge level: beginner (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | about 2 years ago | (#42316593)

I get it from the article about their first long distance flight. They flew mostly during the day. Notice the flight was May to July during the longer days of the year. They also spent a significant time gaining altitude using thermals and local lift conditions to conserve battery power. Evidence if this is quote from the Africa trip article.

On its final leg from Toulouse to Payerne, Solar Impulse traveled 615 km (382 miles) in 13 hours 29 minutes at an average speed of 63 km/h (39 mph) and at an average altitude of 3,596 meters (11,800 ft).

If the average speed was 63 km/h and it flew for 13.5 hours it should have gone 850km. Since the distance is only 615 km, where did the other 235 km go? That is almost 28% of the movement. They went to spiraling in thermals and searching for other form of lift to conserve power. It's real average speed if measured as progress toward its destination is closer to 45 km/h.It's real average speed if measured as progress toward its destination is closer to 45 km/h.

Take a look at the sailplane distance record [xinhuanet.com] . That pilot went faster and much further with no motor at all. Sorry but Solar Impulse is not an electric powered aircraft. It is a high performance sailplane with a very expensive electric motor to help it get from lift condition to lift condition.

You Have To Start Somewhere (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42306841)

As someone sufficiently aged and skeptical to be regularly labeled as a curmudgeon by the typically irrationally exuberant and inexperienced youth, I think you're wrong.

This plane, if it is able to successfully circumnavigate the globe, is hugely impressive. That it harnesses other aspects of the environment such as wind or thermals, does not take away from that.

A electric, solar no less, plane traveling around the globe nonstop will be a fantastic achievement!

Re:You Have To Start Somewhere (2)

jklovanc (1603149) | about 2 years ago | (#42308393)

A electric, solar no less, plane traveling around the globe nonstop will be a fantastic achievement!

Agreed, the point is that these people have not even flown 15 hours nonstop. Notice that they keep referring to 20 hour legs with two pilots? Add that to the fact that it is a single pilot aircraft means that they land at least once a leg. They have also never flown across a large body of water. Saying that this technology will make a nonstop flight around the world is like showing a dragster and saying it can be used to get from LA to New York really fast.

The main obstacle is that there is very little, if any, lift over oceans. Lift is caused by differences in the land surface, materials, mountains etc. There are no stable differences on the ocean surface and therefore no lift.
The circumference of the earth is about 2200km. Divide that by the 45km/h speed and you get 19 days. That is a lot of supplies including oxygen, which will be needed above 10000ft, to be carried on a light sailplane. Noter they flew at an average of 11,800 ft on their first trek.

Another point is that sailplanes already do better than this aircraft under similar conditions. This [xinhuanet.com] pilot already went three times the distance of one of their legs in a sailplane with no motor at all.

They have a long way to go before any of their long distance goals will be reached.

Re:Challenge level: beginner (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42307677)

Beginner level in other ways too...

U.S. is pretty much dotted with civil aviation airports, has good thermals (some parts of the country, a skilled pilot in an unpowered glider can stay up 'til the sun sets), and prevailing jetstream makes a West Coast to East Coast trip pretty straight forward while saving fuel or making really good time. Unless they land and get caught out in a storm, it'll probably be the easiest country they've flown across.

Not the best energy source for an aircraft (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42306017)

Wind or geothermal would be much better.

Re:Not the best energy source for an aircraft (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42307007)

Well, technically there is a wind generator located on the bottom of some planes. The only problem is that it is used during emergencies only, usually when there is an electrical outage.

Re:Not the best energy source for an aircraft (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42307017)

Err... not a wind generator, a wind turbine.

WTF? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42306035)

Family Guy and American Dad episodes pulled after Newtown shootings.

For the love of petardos everywhere, WHY? WHY?

More like Across the USA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42306091)

USA != America

solar impulse flight across US (5, Informative)

John R Lynch (2796031) | about 2 years ago | (#42306095)

I wish they would check their facts before claiming the first solar flight across the US. In 1990 Eric Raymond flew his Sunseeker solar powered airplane across the US from west to east coast (with multiple stops), but nevertheless 22 years ago. His latest effort is a two place advanced solar powered airplane based on a custom Stemme sailplane fuselage with solar wing and empennage, called Sunseeker Duo. His website is www.solar-flight.com

Impressive (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | about 2 years ago | (#42306191)

Here is a quote about their last flight;

The roughly 6,000 km (3,728 mile) trip commenced on May 24 and consisted of a total of eight legs averaging 800 km (497 miles) before reaching its conclusion with a landing back where it all began in Payerne, Switzerland at 8:30 pm on July 24, local time.

So they averaged 100 km a day. I am pretty sure someone on a bicycle could do much better for a lot less money.

Re:Impressive (1)

felipekk (1007591) | about 2 years ago | (#42306237)

A bicycle can't go over oceans...

Re:Impressive (2)

Blaskowicz (634489) | about 2 years ago | (#42306341)

Neither does that plane.

Re:Impressive (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42306531)

A sail boat can do better with ancient technology. You toss your bicycle onto the boat, go across the ocean, disembark, and keep going on land.

The plane is a neat technological demonstration, but terribly impractical.

Re:Impressive (1)

Rogerborg (306625) | about 2 years ago | (#42308015)

You can ride a bicycle on a cloudy day, or at night.

Thank you Timothy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42306393)

For posting a link to the original story! Keep it up :)

Have we gone backwards? (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42306427)

Whilst impressive, we've gone a bit backwards in recent years, it was 1986 when the first aircraft successfully flew around the world, non stop, no refueling. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rutan_Voyager

Call me old, but I miss the old days when we use to circumnavigate the globe, travel to the moon, send probes to Pluto and Neptune.

Re:Have we gone backwards? (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 2 years ago | (#42307863)

Call me old, but I miss the old days when we use to circumnavigate the globe, travel to the moon, send probes to Pluto and Neptune.

It will be four centuries before this guy's descendant saves the planet on multiple occasions, beats the Borg in single combat and generally goes where no man, woman, of small furry creature from Alpha Centauri has gone before, so you'll have to wait a while for that.

Oh, and by the way, we are sending a probe to Pluto right now. So lean back in your armchair comfortably and enjoy the flight. (With a few more years to go, it wouldn't do to walk around with impatience, you'd make a hole in your carpet.)

Non stop would be good. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42306885)

I could fly across the USA on a human powered pogo stick with multiple stops/bounces.

Airliners (1)

ehiris (214677) | about 2 years ago | (#42307839)

I always wondered why commercial airliners never use the technology to supplement in-cabin energy needs.
After-all they're always above the clouds.

Re:Airliners (1)

Rogerborg (306625) | about 2 years ago | (#42308041)

Because unless you're talking heavily subsidised residential installations, PV is a wash economically. Environmentally, it remains a scam no matter (indeed, because of) how much you subsidise it to hide the costs.

Re:Airliners (2)

rubycodez (864176) | about 2 years ago | (#42308403)

hahahaha, do you realize how paltry the power generated would be compared to the output of the jet engines? The cabin electrical nees are essentially zero in a jumbo jet, compared to the tens of megawatts output of the engines. there is no point, no meaningful percentage of fuel saved

Re:Airliners (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42313787)

It would cost more in fuel to lift the necessary equipment than the energy that would be provided, not to mention costs of maintenance.

Bertrand to André (1)

RivenAleem (1590553) | about 2 years ago | (#42312747)

Make it so Number One.
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