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Solar Powered Plane Completes Cross-Country Flight

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the good-landing dept.

Transportation 105

An anonymous reader writes "The Solar Impulse, a solar powered aircraft, landed at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport completing its historic cross-country flight. From the article: 'The flight plan for the revolutionary plane, powered by some 11,000 solar cells on its oversized wings, had called for it to pass the Statue of Liberty before landing early Sunday at New York. But an unexpected tear discovered on the left wing of the aircraft Saturday afternoon forced officials to scuttle the fly-by and proceed directly to JFK for a landing three hours earlier than scheduled. Pilot Andre Borschberg trumpeted the milestone of a plane capable of flying during the day and night, powered by solar energy, crossing the U.S. without the use of fuel.'"

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Wright brothers (-1)

Relevant Fact Bot (2975573) | about a year ago | (#44211555)

On December 17, 2903, the Wright brothers made a first controlled and powered human flight.

Re:Wright brothers (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44211583)

On December 17, 2903, the Wright brothers made a first controlled and powered human flight.

2903? Really?

Re:Wright brothers (2)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#44211791)

According to the Bronze Age Greek calendar, yeah, that sounds about right.

Solar Flight, great and all . . . (1)

Linsaran (728833) | about a year ago | (#44211617)

But is this something that we can convert into a practical design for transporting goods or people cross country or is it just a gimmicky air craft that while nifty will likely never see any wide scale use beyond hobbyists, a la ultralights.

Re:Solar Flight, great and all . . . (1)

Motard (1553251) | about a year ago | (#44211709)

It probably won't be shooting down MIGs or offering first class passenger service any time soon, but a device that could travel to anywhere in the US with no expense beyond the purchase price could well find a niche.

Re:Solar Flight, great and all . . . (3, Insightful)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#44211797)

with no expense beyond the purchase price

As in, requiring no maintenance? Good luck waiting for *that* day in the aerospace industry.

Re:Solar Flight, great and all . . . (2)

slazzy (864185) | about a year ago | (#44213823)

Significantly reduced expense might be more accurate.

So where are these available? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44214179)

If you know that they will want maintenance, then you must have one already, right?

My windows need "maintenance". Washing every other year.

Real expensive to run.

Re:Solar Flight, great and all . . . (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44211917)

It probably won't be shooting down MIGs or offering first class passenger service any time soon, but a device that could travel to anywhere in the US with no expense beyond the purchase price could well find a niche.

An aircraft that has almost no capacity for weight and yet wants damn near unlimited flight capacity, along with an undying "need" to build tens of thousands of them under a pointless guise and ruse, only to be paid for by taxpayers?

Gee (cough, drone), I can't possibly (cough, drone) think of an (cough, drone) application...

Re:Solar Flight, great and all . . . (3, Insightful)

Motard (1553251) | about a year ago | (#44212093)

Or Google maps. Or a communications relay. Or a climate monitor. Or a weather monitor. etc.

Re:Solar Flight, great and all . . . (3, Informative)

amiga3D (567632) | about a year ago | (#44211711)

I doubt it'll be useful soon but down the road who knows. It was a few decades between the wright brothers and the age of the Airliner. Time and technology march on.

Re:Solar Flight, great and all . . . (2)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about a year ago | (#44211769)

Drones. A weapon armed with a couple of Hellfire missiles that can stay in the air 24/7, ready to blow up a wedding party at a moment's notice. Could also be useful for spying - cloud cover can scupper satellites.

Re:Solar Flight, great and all . . . (3, Interesting)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#44211799)

Could also be useful for spying - cloud cover can scupper satellites.

So you send a solar-powered drone to look below the cloud cover? Sounds logical.

Re:Solar Flight, great and all . . . (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about a year ago | (#44211919)

Cloud cover != pitch dark. The panels still work. It could always fly high and then come down for a while if required.

Re:Solar Flight, great and all . . . (1)

raju1kabir (251972) | about a year ago | (#44212709)

The thing can fly at night, I'm pretty sure it can deal with a few clouds.

Re:Solar Flight, great and all . . . (1)

Motard (1553251) | about a year ago | (#44212811)

But imagine if we could develop a solar powered aircraft that could fly though the night...

(tap, tap)

Huh?

Oh, that's what this story is about?

Well then, nevermind.

Re:Solar Flight, great and all . . . (2)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#44214447)

There's a world of difference between "being able to fly a few hours at night when you're already aloft and using all tricks up the glider's sleeve" and "taking off, gaining altitude, navigating with a purpose to a specific target and staying over it when there's a prospect of overcast for a few whole days". It's the difference between a geeky experimental toy and mil-spec equipment that has to work no matter what the conditions are. Especially if you have to rely on the availability of the info the drone provides. I'm sorry, but in that role, hydrocarbons are really hard to beat.

Re:Solar Flight, great and all . . . (2)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about a year ago | (#44214659)

What an unfortunate attitude. When the Wright Flyer was demonstrated many militaries couldn't see what possible practical application the technology could ever have or how it could ever be advanced to a useful point. Same things happened with submarines and air-to-air missiles.

The first version usually isn't perfect, just like the first electric cars had some pretty major limitations. Even now some people can't accept that Tesla has made one that is absolutely fine for 95% of the population. It seems to be human nature.

Re:Solar Flight, great and all . . . (2)

khallow (566160) | about a year ago | (#44214731)

I think it more has to do with the ongoing superior energy density of hydrocarbons. Keep in mind that a) most portable energy storage mechanisms are limited by something proportional to chemical energy density, even physical energy storage methods like flywheels and b) hydrocarbons have the unusual property that they react with atmosphere and dump the reaction byproducts into atmosphere. There's a lot of mass saving that one can't get from batteries.

Re:Solar Flight, great and all . . . (2)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#44214755)

Actually, your comment neatly demonstrates the problem here. That is, even taking into consideration the fact that powering cars with electricity does have a whole load of benefits, the fact remains that the Wright brothers were flying their first flyer in exactly the period that was the heyday of electrical cars. So, fast forward one century, and unlike the Wrights' Flyer, electrical cars haven't exactly gotten off the ground, pardon the pun. We have one company that builds electrical cars that would be technically OK for most people, if the "most people" could afford them, and if there were a sufficient widespread infrastructure for handling them.

Oh, I'm pretty sure that in one more century, we'll have it down pat. Unless, you know, electrochemistry and the economy of building mobile energy storage devices stops us, that is. There's still a wide chasm between lab prototypes and stuff useful and economical enough for daily use. Electrical cars will most likely never replace hydrocarbon-fueled vehicles in some applications at least, and military drones are a similar kind of extreme application that simply won't budge to the "imagine how cool it would be" impulses that seem to be plaguing many a Slashdotter's mind.

Re:Solar Flight, great and all . . . (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about a year ago | (#44216869)

That's a poor extension of my analogy. Internal combustion engines became popular because they were cheap due to offloading the cost of the pollution to other people. That offloading eventually started to fail as they became popular and everyone started suffering from the effects of pollution, which actually were pretty bad in some areas by the time it was just getting started thanks to to coal burning.

Oh, I'm pretty sure that in one more century, we'll have it down pat... There's still a wide chasm between lab prototypes and stuff useful and economical enough for daily use.

This is exactly what I'm talking about. You can buy a Tesla Model S today that is economical and useful for everyday use. Over its lifetime it will cost far less than an equivalent petrol car. Even the up-front cost is about the same as similar class vehicles, and the next iteration is planned to be even cheaper.

Despite this you can't quite get past the idea that it is always decades away. It appears to be human nature to be unable to adjust your expectations or even accept the reality seen in front of you in a short space of time when your previous beliefs have been held for much longer.

Re:Solar Flight, great and all . . . (1)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | about a year ago | (#44211809)

Pfft. Really.
I mean, sure they are pushing the technological and engineering boundaries of aviation, photovoltaics, and batteries but come on!
Where in the heck are you going to put THAT many sammiches to feed the pilot for that long!

Re:Solar Flight, great and all . . . (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about a year ago | (#44212343)

But is this something that we can convert into a practical design for transporting goods or people cross country

"Transporting goods or people" are not the only practical uses for aircraft. Other obvious uses for long-loiter-time aircraft are reconnaissance, and relaying communications.

Re:Solar Flight, great and all . . . (5, Insightful)

sjames (1099) | about a year ago | (#44212477)

The Wright Flyer wasn't all that practical either. No cargo, no passengers, one pilot, and less than 900 feet traveled.

Re:Solar Flight, great and all . . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44212533)

How about a solar-powered blimp? Lots of surface area for panels and they've been proven to lift tens of thousands of pounds.

Re:Solar Flight, great and all . . . (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | about a year ago | (#44212849)

they've been proven to lift tens of thousands of pounds.

They have? I suppose 20000lbs of capacity in the largest of airships would be sufficient to qualify as "tens", but that's an awfully pitiful payload in comparison to the lifting volume needed to accomplish it.

Re:Solar Flight, great and all . . . (2)

fnj (64210) | about a year ago | (#44213773)

Well, the HINDENBURG filled with hydrogen lifted 480,000 lb including some 35,000 lb of engines plus 120,000 lb of fuel as well as the structural weight. With non flammable helium it would still have been over 400,000 lb, with large advances in structural materials since 1936 from which to save structural weight. Considering that it only required 3200 hp to fly 78 mph, and could have flown at 39 mph with only 400 hp, there's a helluva lot to spare for solar cells, electric motors, and batteries.

Yeah, I'd say tens of thousands of pounds is absolutely no stretch at all.

Re:Solar Flight, great and all . . . (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44213215)

A fleet of solar powered, autonomously piloted cargo zeppelins would be a nice thing to have.

Flying East. (1, Insightful)

csumpi (2258986) | about a year ago | (#44211623)

Pilot Andre Borschberg trumpeted the milestone of a plane capable of flying during the day and night, powered by solar energy, crossing the U.S. from West to East without the use of fuel.

Now let's see how they get back from NYC to SF without the use of fuel.

Re:Flying East. (1)

Cardcaptor_RLH85 (891550) | about a year ago | (#44211837)

I read your comment and have been trying to understand what the issue is. This plane has flown at night before. It collects more solar energy during daytime flight than it uses for power and stores the remainder in batteries for use during nighttime flight. Even if it couldn't, this aircraft is quite slow so, it wouldn't outrun the sun in an east-to-west flight.

Re:Flying East. (3, Informative)

chispito (1870390) | about a year ago | (#44211881)

I read your comment and have been trying to understand what the issue is. This plane has flown at night before. It collects more solar energy during daytime flight than it uses for power and stores the remainder in batteries for use during nighttime flight. Even if it couldn't, this aircraft is quite slow so, it wouldn't outrun the sun in an east-to-west flight.

I think he means http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jet_stream [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Flying East. (1)

Motard (1553251) | about a year ago | (#44212229)

But, assuming that the aircraft is capable of flying from east to west for any distance, isn't this just a question of how long it would take?

Re:Flying East. (1)

fnj (64210) | about a year ago | (#44213789)

Not if the jet stream is blowing over 100 mph and the plane is flying in the jet stream in the opposite direction at just 45 mph. OTOH, the solution is simply not to fly in the jet stream, which is mappable geographically. Also, the plane may not cruise at the same altitude as the jet stream is usually found.

This isn't flying at 40,000ft. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44214205)

It isn't apressurised cabin and didn't fly in the jet stream.

Re:This isn't flying at 40,000ft. (1)

fnj (64210) | about a year ago | (#44214841)

Unpressurized cabin or no, the rated service ceiling is 8500 m, and it is capable of reaching 12,000 m. Sailplane cockpits are not pressurized either, but the altitude record for sailplanes is 15,460 m. Jet streams can be found as low as 7000 m, though they are usually at least 10,000 m.

The thing that boggled my mind about this plane was, why build a plane with a basically unlimited endurance, and then burden it with a pilot, who can't possibly last very long? The plane can only travel 1700 km per 24 hours.

Re:Flying East. (2)

sribe (304414) | about a year ago | (#44211893)

I read your comment and have been trying to understand what the issue is. This plane has flown at night before. It collects more solar energy during daytime flight than it uses for power and stores the remainder in batteries for use during nighttime flight. Even if it couldn't, this aircraft is quite slow so, it wouldn't outrun the sun in an east-to-west flight.

Prevailing westerly winds? Most of the SF -> NYC trip would have been downwind. Most of an NYC -> SF trip would be upwind.

Re:Flying East. (1)

afidel (530433) | about a year ago | (#44212705)

Normally that would be true but with the weird twist in the jetstream the last few weeks I doubt it was too much help unless they wanted to go over the gulf of mexico and canada.

Re:Flying East. (1)

sribe (304414) | about a year ago | (#44215195)

Normally that would be true but with the weird twist in the jetstream the last few weeks I doubt it was too much help unless they wanted to go over the gulf of mexico and canada.

This thing was nowhere near the altitude of the jetstream. At low altitude the westerlies still prevail; though of course they vary in strength but with this thing it doesn't take much of a wind to make the difference between getting anywhere and not ;-)

Re:Flying East. (1)

AngryDill (740460) | about a year ago | (#44215611)

So then, have the plane fly east to get to San Francisco! It will get there.

Granted it'll take a little longer. ;-)

Re:Flying East. (1)

sribe (304414) | about a year ago | (#44215805)

So then, have the plane fly east to get to San Francisco! It will get there.

Granted it'll take a little longer. ;-)

No, with this plane, it would take less time than flying west to get there ;-)

Re:Flying East. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44211897)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jetstream

Re:Flying East. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44213139)

I read your comment and have been trying to understand what the issue is.

The prevailing winds in the continental US are westerlies, which means they blow from the west
toward the east.

As such, often when traveling from east to west by air, you face a "headwind", which impedes
progress.

Obviously you are not a pilot. But I am, and a plane as slow as the aircraft described in this
article could easily be moving backward over the ground if winds are against it. This would make
forward progress difficult or even impossible. It is like the difference between floating downstream
in a river and trying to paddle UP stream.

*

Re: Flying East. (2)

CadentOrange (2429626) | about a year ago | (#44214077)

I think he's referring to the jet stream, which blows from West to East. That's the reason flights to the east are faster than flights to the west. The former benefits from a strong tail wind while the latter has to fly against a head wind. Flying from NYC to SF is going to be a lot more difficult.

With multiple stops along the way (5, Informative)

CastrTroy (595695) | about a year ago | (#44211627)

Although I realize this is probably a big achievement, I was a little disappointed to find out that this wasn't done in a single flight, but rather many smaller trips with stops in between. I can't believe this wasn't mentioned in the summary, Makes the news sound much more spectacular than it actually was. I really don't think you can count this as a cross-country flight when it had to make multiple stops along the way. Really, it's just a series of short flights in the same direction. It's not like when somebody runs across the country, and we just all assume it wasn't non-stop, with a plane we kind of assume that there wasn't any stops.

Re:With multiple stops along the way (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44211761)

HFSRU?
I enjoy coining new acronyms. Slashdot makes it trivial.

Re:With multiple stops along the way (1)

gandhi_2 (1108023) | about a year ago | (#44211823)

potty breaks.

Re: With multiple stops along the way (1)

CadentOrange (2429626) | about a year ago | (#44214083)

You mean they don't just piss and shit out the window?

Re:With multiple stops (LIES) along the way (1)

Bob_Who (926234) | about a year ago | (#44211883)

You are right. There is a fundamental dishonesty and up-selling of this story which in every iteration on the wire conveys an impression of continuous flight. In fact, the link on Google's home page led me to detail that seemed that way. So what is it with the media, press, and politics these days that insists on perpetually bending the truth and making false claims?

Little lies are total bullshit.

Re:With multiple stops along the way (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44211899)

Early on that's how the first flights across the US were done. The planes wouldn't be able to store enough fuel to go that far, and would regularly break down.

And I agree, I'm not sure what the news here is if they weren't able to make it in one shot. I could "fly" across the US, by gliding as well, but it's more impressive if you do it in one shot, rather than hundreds of shorter ones.

Re:With multiple stops along the way (2)

Nidi62 (1525137) | about a year ago | (#44212019)

Early on that's how the first flights across the US were done. The planes wouldn't be able to store enough fuel to go that far, and would regularly break down.

Isn't that in fact how Chicago-Midway got it's name? If I remember correctly, it was pretty much the midway point for air travel from coast to coast, and they would have to stop in Chicago to refuel.

Re:With multiple stops along the way (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | about a year ago | (#44212661)

Granted it was only 6 trips, not hundreds, but I understand what you're saying, if there's no time limit, and no limit on stops, then somebody who ran across the country could say they flew across the country as there were just thousands of very short flights. When running, both feet leave the ground, so you could almost argue that it's a very short flight.

JFK? (2, Insightful)

jo7hs2 (884069) | about a year ago | (#44211771)

I don't mean to be a whiny spoilsport, but with all the congestion in the airspace around NYC, why did they pick JFK to land a slow-moving and delicate aircraft?

There are numerous airports at the periphery that are significantly less busy, like Stewart International or Islip/McArthur that could have been used for this event. The need to avoid wake turbulence and make sufficient room in the pattern to accommodate such an aircraft had to be a pain to manage.

Regardless, excellent achievement in a cool aircraft.

Re:JFK? (1)

x0ra (1249540) | about a year ago | (#44211887)

Public relation ? It's looking better than any smaller airport.

Re:JFK? (1)

chispito (1870390) | about a year ago | (#44211891)

Publicity, I'm sure.

Re:JFK? (1)

Motard (1553251) | about a year ago | (#44212203)

I don't know, but it is surprisingly big. Perhaps it's about hanger space more than runways.

Re:JFK? (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#44213277)

I'm not familiar with the peripheral airports, and their capabilities; but this thing has almost exactly the same wingspan as a 777. It doesn't weigh much of anything; and it isn't particularly long; but you'll need a good size runway to put it down.

Toy (5, Interesting)

jklovanc (1603149) | about a year ago | (#44211827)

It left Phoenix Arizona May 22, 2013 and arrived at JFK 46 days later with a straight line distance of 2200 miles . That would be 47 miles per day. Sure there were a few stopovers but that is a very low daily mileage. Even if they flew one day in ten that is still only 470 miles per day.
I have a few questions for the makers of Solar Impulse;
1. How long does it stay on the ground charging the solar cells?
2. How often do they actually use the electric motor?
3. What percentage of time are they utilizing natural lift such as thermals and ridge lift?

I looked at their

web site

. It is a great PR site that give little or no technical information of the flight and how they are actually done. I would like to see the following;
1. Altitude logs for the flights,
2. Electric motor usage charts.
3. Battery charge level charts,
4. Exact track plots of the flights.
I bet we would have a very different picture of Solar Impulse if they let this information was let out.

It is my contention that Solar Impulse is a sailplane with enough electrical power to get to altitude and move between natural sources of lift. Conventional sailplanes can do almost everything that Solar Impulse does. The exception being taking off though there are some powered sailplanes that do that too.

Lets do a speed test to find the limits of the technology rather than a leisurely promotion trip. I am not impressed.

Re:Toy (2)

Motard (1553251) | about a year ago | (#44212175)

Interesting questions, but not really on point. This is a demonstration of the current state of the art as they see it. Perhaps an advertisement for attracting further funding. They aren't really targeting requirements developed by you or me. So I feel content to just watch and note the accomplishment.

Re:Toy (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | about a year ago | (#44212423)

It is over hyped as it is a relatively minor accomplishment already possible with thirty year old technology.
When they make statement like the following they are lying;

Theirs is the high-flying equivalent of the Tesla electric sports car.

The Tesla electric sports car is a viable product usable by the average person that does something useful. Solar Impulse is none of those things and is therefore over hyped.

Re:Toy (1)

Motard (1553251) | about a year ago | (#44212585)

Why is this a problem for you? If tax dollars are involved, perhaps I might have an issue.

You quote a sentence beginning with 'Theirs'. That would imply that they didn't write that sentence. Who would actually think they're claiming some sort of equivalence to Tesla Motors?

Re:Toy (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | about a year ago | (#44212695)

The contribution to this scam could be going toward valuable research that might actually change something. Wasting millions on a toy is still waste.

Re:Toy (1)

Motard (1553251) | about a year ago | (#44212895)

Ok, no G.I. Joe with Kung-Fu Grip for you. Just a big plate of pessimism.

Re:Toy (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | about a year ago | (#44213045)

Some call it pessimism some call it realism.

Re:Toy (2)

ArsonSmith (13997) | about a year ago | (#44213477)

Actually no it's not, those millions are going into materials and research for people who built the plane or parts of it. The economy is not a fixed size pie. When someone spends millions on something like this it isn't millions gone from the economy in fact they are off to do many other things. The only wasted money is what is sitting in a piggy bank or thrown under a mattress.

Re:Toy (1)

quacking duck (607555) | about a year ago | (#44213821)

The contribution to this scam could be going toward valuable research that might actually change something. Wasting millions on a toy is still waste.

Ah yes, the "money wasted on X could be better spent elsewhere" fallacy.

Utterly irrelevant. The same millions could go to feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, researching a cure for cancer, or a thousand other worthy things.

The entire project is financed by private entities, whose legally-accrued money is theirs to do with as they please as long as it doesn't harm others. And by definition it's not a scam because the project is ultimately doing exactly what "investors" were told it would do.

Re:Toy (1)

dywolf (2673597) | about a year ago | (#44214817)

that's the point: it isnt really state of the art. sailplanes have already gone distances of 1400 miles, and they use no power whatsoever.
this thing is more like a fancy sailplane with its own onboard motor (which is actually common on more expensive sailplanes flown in areas without tows or winches to get airborne). having solar cells means less thermal riding reliance than a sailplane, but the extreme low speed frequent stops, and low low mileage overall make this extremely unimpressive, even by "state of the art 30 years ago" standards. this plane is pure PR and spin.

Re:Toy (1)

Virtucon (127420) | about a year ago | (#44212481)

It's an adventure game..

Does anybody recognize one of the pilot's names? Piccard? No, not Star Trek.

The Piccards are explorers, and Bertrand, the Chariman of this project and his family have done quite a [a="http://www.bertrandpiccard.com/eng/family1.php#"] few other things,...[/a]

Bertrand was also one of the guys in the Breitling Orbiter in 1999 [bertrandpiccard.com] and went around the world.

His Grandfather, Auguste, [wikipedia.org] was an explorer and did stratospheric experiments with balloons in the 1930s.. He later designed the Batheyscaphe [wikipedia.org] and his sun Jacques, Bertrands' father, went to the bottom of the Marianas Trench in 1960..

What you have here are the influences of professional explorers, so I'm sure the next goal will be to take the solar powered plane around the world but at 50 miles/day it may take just a little bit of time.

Re:Toy (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | about a year ago | (#44212685)

The point is that I can take a power glider around the world today. I find it difficult to call something that can already be done with old technology exploration. To me exploration is finding and doing new things. This is just expensive toys funded under the falsehood that it could never be done before. False advertising is still wrong.

Wut? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44212791)

"How long does it stay on the ground charging the solar cells?"

How the hell do you "charge" solar cells?

Re:Toy (1)

tompaulco (629533) | about a year ago | (#44213109)

If they charged the battery on the ground then they are also being dishonest about not using any fuels. Although of course there was a huge amount of indirect fuel used for various activities in the manufacture, transport, and whatnot, if they actually charged the batteries on the ground then they directly used fuel to do so, although like electric cars, the environmentalists tend to handwave the electric generation away.
I find the feat to be unremarkable, especially in light of the fact that it has been done before. Further, it is clear that they are not able to charge the batteries enough during daylight flight to be able to power the craft through the night.
46 days is not impressive at all for an airplane. Their is a man training now for a planned run across the United States in 45 days. This will beat this airplanes "record" (although that is not his goal).

No Fuel?? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44211877)

Sure...the flight happened "...without the use of fuel..." -- except the oil used in the plastics on the plane, the fuel used to shuttle the flight crew around, the fuel used in the manufacturing process, the fuel used in transporting the aircraft when it's not crawling across the country...

But seriously congrats on making it across the country in almost two months with only ~60 stops along the way "...without the use of fuel!" The future is here!

Re:No Fuel?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44211921)

Agreed - this couldn't have possibly occurred without the use of fuel, which makes the story that much more aggravating.

Re:No Fuel?? (1)

sjames (1099) | about a year ago | (#44212563)

By your rather broad interpretation, nearly everything is fuel, including you.

... in a mere 500% more time than normal planes (1)

Dakiraun (1633747) | about a year ago | (#44211913)

*rubs head* alright.... while I can appreciate that it's a solar-powered, electric plane, this thing has really only served to prove one very important point - we are no where NEAR ready to make solar powered planes yet.

Solar cells are just not efficient enough to make this a viable means of powered flight. The proof is in the stats - 11,628 cells are only enough to provide the plane power to lift itself and a pilot. And that's with a wingspan of 208 feet. It has no on-board luxuries of any kind... including a toilet, and because it's maximum speed is 43mph (often less when dealing with air currents) that makes for a rather uncomfortable ride that lasts a long, long time.

Even though you can drive somewhere faster than you can get there on this thing, the one thing it does at least prove is that a solar plane is possible. Just barely with current technology, but possible. As cell efficiency, weight, and materials continue to improve, so will the solar planes that come from it. Until then... we're stuck with the gas-guzzling current batch of technology. :/

Re:... in a mere 500% more time than normal planes (1)

Motard (1553251) | about a year ago | (#44212281)

we are no where NEAR ready to make solar powered planes yet.

Psst... this is a story about a solar powered plane successfully making it's way across the continental U.S.

No, I don't want to buy one. But it is interesting.

Re:... in a mere 500% more time than normal planes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44213267)

Except it's not. It's about a solar powered plane making 6 successful tiny trips over the course of more than a month. They happen to all be in the same direction which happens to be "across the continental US". Not quite the same thing.

Re:... in a mere 500% more time than normal planes (2)

wagnerrp (1305589) | about a year ago | (#44212887)

There is really very little room to improve such technology. The claims on the solar array are that their cells are roughly 22% efficient. The only way to really go up from there is with much more expensive multi-junction cells, and even then, you're going to top out at around 40%. Batteries could be improved, cutting weight and wingspan. Best case scenario, you might end up with something that could sustain 60mph, up from a mere 45mph. This will never be an alternative to the current batch of gas-guzzling technology.

Over Night Flight (4, Interesting)

jklovanc (1603149) | about a year ago | (#44211953)

This article [solarimpulse.com] is about a night flight dine by Solar Impulse. Though they do not say it, I bet they started with 100% battery power. Here are a few interesting excerpts from the article.

. He remained at this altitude until about noon, flying backwards and forwards along the Jura mountain chain.

I am a glider pilot and this indicates that he is using ridge lift [wikipedia.org] or mountain wave [wikipedia.org] to stay alloft and/or gain altitude. Both are standard sailplane tactics.

After 14 ½ hours of flying, at 9:30pm, André Borschberg switched off the solar generator

Around midnight, the aircraft was at 4’500 feet, slightly less than 1’500 m, the altitude it needed to maintain until sunrise.

At 5:46am, on July 8, HB-SIA became the first solar-powered airplane to successfully complete a night flight.

By validating the fact that the HB-SIA had returned with a 54% charge level in its batteries,

So the aircraft consumed 46% of it's charge in about 5 hours and 46 minutes. Night was about 8 hours long. So they have proven that under controlled conditions with a very long day and a very short night the aircraft can fly overnight. Considering the sailplane record is 56 hours 15 Minutes, I am not impressed. It is still a toy with no practical application.

Re:Over Night Flight (1)

Motard (1553251) | about a year ago | (#44212753)

Did the sailplane hop across the continental U.S.? If not, it appears that this thing is better.

Re:Over Night Flight (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | about a year ago | (#44213037)

A person on a bicycle can hop across continental U.S. Just because someone spent the millions of dollars to do it does not make the feat special. The distance record for a glider is 2256.9km in one hop.

Re:Over Night Flight (1)

dywolf (2673597) | about a year ago | (#44214837)

Did the sailplane hop across the continental U.S.? If not, it appears that this thing is better.

In one hop? No, not yet. But then neither did this toy.
But the sailplane record is 1407 miles, which by definition is a single hop.

Sailplanes are limited by pilot endurance, and available daylight hours (because thermals are created by sunlight heating the ground). in fact, you could say sailplanes are the original solar powered aircraft.

Re:Over Night Flight (1)

dywolf (2673597) | about a year ago | (#44214871)

Also: Sunseeker (1990) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunseeker_I#Sunseeker [wikipedia.org]
This is just a fancy european effort at accomplishing something already done, with a lot of corporate sponsors (with links to DICE??), and lots of money.

I am still impressed (2)

sleepypsycho (1335401) | about a year ago | (#44213033)

The plane had to support the weight of the batteries and the solar cells. It had to be able to lift off and travel across the country so it could not rely on ridge lift for most sections of the flight. This same plane made it over night, all be it with the help of sailplane flying techniques. However, it is not, in fact, designed to be a sailplane nor does if function solely as one.

Re:I am still impressed (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | about a year ago | (#44213079)

could not rely on ridge lift for most sections of the flight.

Thermal work quite well too. Just find a dark patch of ground in the sun.

The other issue is that they do not say whether or not the batteries are recharged by solar alone. Even if they did use the solar panels to recharge, waiting for that recharge is not very efficient.

However, it is not, in fact, designed to be a sailplane

It has all the hallmarks of a sailplane;
long, high aspect ration wings,
slim fuselage,
minimal carrying capacity

It is still a toy for rich kids.

Re:I am still impressed (1)

Cochonou (576531) | about a year ago | (#44213945)

I do not know what they did for this particular trip. However, the procedure for most of its sorties in Europe was to have the aircraft batteries charge on the ground from its solar panels, prior to take-off. For instance, for its demonstration at the 2011 Paris Air Show which took place on Saturday morning, they left the plane in the sun on Friday.

Derigibles (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44211991)

How much faster is this than a solar dirigible? What kind of load can it carry?

I'm happy this worked, and it should be pursued, but it seems to me lightweight bags of gas are particularly good at remaining aloft and have a surface area that ought to be very compatible with some electric engines. And since the lift isn't totally depending on the turbines, you could probably move cargo cheaply too.

Great (1)

EmagGeek (574360) | about a year ago | (#44212311)

Now make it 800,000 lbs of plane, pax, and luggage, and do it in 5 hours or less east to west.

Then you'll have something.

Re:Great (1)

Virtucon (127420) | about a year ago | (#44212387)

Do you want Korean pilots with that? ....

What? Too Soon? ....

Re:Great (1)

quacking duck (607555) | about a year ago | (#44213867)

Tell that to the Wright brothers after they made their first powered flight. Orville Wright lived another 4 decades afterward, but didn't get to see anything fulfilling all your conditions.

Not saying that Solar Impulse will ever lead to anything comparable, but loading it with such lofty requirements is uncalled for.

AND it was done 23 years ago! (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44212691)

One commenter mentioned the "fundamental dishonesty" of many of the stories on Solar Impulse. Hah. Even the Solar Impulse site itself acknowledges that a trans-USA flight in a series of hops was done by a previous airplane, Sunseeker. The year? 1990. Here's a photo of the plane: http://www.inhabitat.com/wp-content/uploads/sunseeker_solar_main.jpg

Wikipedia shows where Solar Impulse fits in the history of electric and solar-powered airplanes (it's pretty far down the list): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar-powered_airplane

I have been astonished that so many "news" organizations were not all over the REAL story: latecomers trying to puff themselves up as "pioneers" and "innovators", when all of the pioneering and innovating in solar-powered airplanes was done decades previously. "Solar Challenger", anyone?

Re:AND it was done 23 years ago! (1)

dywolf (2673597) | about a year ago | (#44214847)

^^ THIS.
Truth.

dumb stunt (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44212731)

Even if you could get 100% conversion efficiency (which is impossible) you could not collect enough watts per square foot of surface area from sunlight for any practical manned flight; there will never be a solar-powered airliner, business plane, cargo plane, etc. This is just a dub stunt to show that if you spend millions of dollars you can build an extremely fragile solar-powered glider that one person can fly at 45mph in ideal conditions. It's a technological dead-end that will fool many stupid people in the general public into thinking future airliners will be "green" and sun-powered; this sort of propaganda is what leads some people to think that our planes and cars and trucks run on fossil fuels because of some grand conspiracy by "big oil" rather than because those fuels are simply the best (in energy density, availability, transportability, etc) we have.

But what about . . . (1)

chasisaac (893152) | about a year ago | (#44212901)

This is really nice and cool. And saying I few at 45mph across the US would nice. What does this actually accomplish? Can we actually move products across the country or people or things or something?

without the use of fuel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44213005)

Powered flight without the use of fuel!

The energy crisis is solved!

A perpetual motion machine has been invented!

Or maybe the fuel consisted of photons collected by the solar cells to charge its batteries, and the stored potential electrical energy was then converted into kinetic energy with electric motors thereby using the electricity as "fuel"?

Just asking!

Re:without the use of fuel? (1)

AK Marc (707885) | about a year ago | (#44213205)

Define "Fuel". You are playing word games to make fun of others, when it is you who is wrong.

Now, try flying across a big country... (1)

qzzpjs (1224510) | about a year ago | (#44213817)

The U.S. is a small country to fly across. Try flying across Canada! From the edge of Yukon to edge of Newfoundland. About twice the distance, and probably a lot less light to use power due to the higher latitude. This solar plane needs to be tested in all sorts of environments and I'm sure we can provide some. From cold, snowy, rainy, humid, and even hot on some days.

Re:Now, try flying across a big country... (1)

MiG82au (2594721) | about a year ago | (#44214263)

Bzzzt. You need to go back to geography class and learn your map projections if you think it's twice the distance. The longest great circle distance I can measure within Canada is 5160 km (NW Yukon to Newfoundland), and from SFO to JFK it's 4130 km.
FWIW, the longest distance I can find in the contiguous USA is NW Washington to the Florida Keys: 4630 km. Tell me again how Canada is soooo big.

What for ? (1)

feufeu (1109929) | about a year ago | (#44213999)

Don't get me wrong: there surely is a need to promote clean energy, fuel efficiency and all but why for fucks sake would anybody assume that this is a configuration that will ever be of use outside of high and very long flying unmanned planes for surveillance or similar ?

You cannot defy the laws of physics and they tell me that even with weightless 100% efficiency solar cells that cover a huge blimp you might barely able to drive the thing. Why not store the energy that can be collected with ground based solar cells (where weight doesn't count and efficiency in terms of power vs. surface not that much) in synthesized fuel (say, methanol) and use it in a rather traditional plane ???

News for Luddites (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44214675)

Bah, pfft, humbug etc. This is new, therefore it will never work. It is not as good as current technology, therefore it will never be as good.

That about cover the /. groupthink?

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