Sunday, May 15, 2011
The solar-powered airplane Solar Impulse touched down at the Brussels National Airport late Friday night, after completing a 13-hour flight from its home base in Payerne, Switzerland. It was the first international flight by a fully solar-powered aircraft.
The experimental aircraft was piloted by André Borschberg, co-founder and chief engineer for the Solar Impulse project, which hopes to circumnavigate the globe using only the sun’s energy in 2013. “Our goal is to create a revolution in the minds of people…to promote solar energies — not necessarily a revolution in aviation,” Bertrand Piccard, the group’s other co-founder, said in an interview after the flight.
The aircraft collects energy from the sun using 12,000 extremely thin solar cells affixed to the wings and tail section. An on-board battery can store enough electricity to fly all night, allowing the Solar Impulse to stay aloft indefinitely. This allowed the aircraft to maintain a holding pattern over the Brussels airport as other flights landed and conditions were right for the Solar Impulse to land. Because the aircraft weighs only about 3,500 pounds and has a wingspan of 200 feet, it is extremely sensitive to wind and needs calm conditions to land safely.