Solar Impulse is a Swiss aircraft designed for long-range flights, travelling under the power of nothing more than sunlight, and it’s gearing up to complete a flight around the world in 2015.
The plane employs 17,248 solar cells to harness the sun’s energy. As the sun sets, the plane switches over to the energy stored in its batteries. Solar Impulse can, in theory, perpetually stay aloft for as long as a pilot wants to fly.
This is a project dreamed up by Bertrand Piccard, a Swiss who co-piloted a non-stop balloon flight around the world in 1999, and André Borschberg, a Swiss businessman.
Piccard has a family history of exploring — his father was a noted undersea explorer and his grandfather was a prominent balloonist too. Borschberg leads the technical team that actually builds the systems that make Solar Impulse work. The two undertook the project as a means of demonstrating that “pioneering spirit, innovation, and clean technologies can change the world.”
It's also led by Swiss psychiatrist Bertrand Piccard, who previously co-piloted the first balloon to travel around the world non-stop.
The plane saw its first test flight in 2009. The team called it a 'flea hop,' flying a mere three feet high for a distance of 1,200 feet.
Since it was the first time the plane had ever left the ground, the 'flea hop' saw the plane fly that low for the sake of safety.
This picture comes from the fourth leg of Solar Impulse's first intercontinental flight, seen taking off in Rabat, Morocco.
The challenge that looms ahead -- to fly around the world -- means they're spending lots of time in the flight simulator.
It's a good analogue for the real thing, which will take 20-25 days total with pilots flying for 3-4 days at a time, though it won't use a drop of fuel.
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