In the Philippines, Solar energy is one of the most viable sources of renewable power due to the country’s tendency to receive copious amounts of sunlight daily. This is true especially in the summer months when the clouds are rare and the rain is even more so; the sun’s energy is free to spread everywhere and simply wait to get tapped. That is a good thing, too, as solar power is such a versatile source of renewable energy. It can power anything from energy plants, to cars, and now, even planes.
The Swiss have come up with experimental solar powered aircraft. They named it the Solar Impulse. The project was privately financed and was lead by André Borschberg, a Swiss engineer and businessman, and Bertrand Piccard, a Swiss astronaut and psychiatrist. The goal of the project is to bring attention to renewable energy sources and clean technologies by piloting the aircraft through being the first solar powered aircraft to circumnavigate the world by using only solar power.
The project on an experimental solar powered aircraft was started in 2003 Bertrand Piccard after he participated in a study with École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne). André Borschberg, who is a mechanical engineer, stood as co-founder and oversaw the construction of the aircraft and its flight missions. The project had gathered a team comprised of over 50 engineers of different specializations, 80 tech partners, and about a hundred outside advisers, by 2009. It also received funds from the Swiss government and received technical expertise from the European Space Agency and Dassault.
Solar Impulse 1
The first prototype was simply referred to as Solar Impulse 1. It was designed to remain in the air for about 36 hours. Its first flight was on the 3rd December of 2009. Another test flight was conducted in July of 2010, where it flew 26 hours. In 2012, successful flights were conducted to Spain and Morocco from Switzerland, and 2013, a flight to the United States.
The Solar Impulse 1 has a one man crew, a wingspan of 208 feet, a height of 21 feet, a cruising speed of 70 kilometers per hour, and a maximum altitude of 39,000 feet.
Solar Impulse 2
Solar Impulse 2 was the second experimental solar powered aircraft completed in 2014. Some of the improvements made were more solar cells and more powerful motors. It was in March of 2015 when André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard started their attempt in circumnavigating the globe with the solar powered aircraft. They took off from the United Arab Emirates in Abu Dhabi and was scheduled to return to its origin in August 2015. It had gone across Asia by June 2015, and was about to go on its longest journey, from Japan to Hawaii, in July 2015, but the batteries were damaged and it took months to repair it. The circumnavigation resumed when it flew to California in April of 2016. It reached New York City on 11th of June 2015, crossed the Atlantic Ocean and landed in Spain on 23rd June 2016.
The Solar Impulse 2 has a one man crew, a wingspan of 236 feet, a height of 20.9 feet, a cruising speed of 90 kilometers per hour during the day and 60 kilometers per hour at night to save power, and a maximum altitude of 39,000 feet.
This just proves that with enough ingenuity and a lot of effort, even seemingly impossible feats of engineering can be accomplished. Who would have thought that we would have planes powered by the sun, right? It doesn’t end there, either. There are many other sources of renewable energy all around the Earth – all we have to do is look a little closer.