In July of 2010, the Solar Impulse, a plane capable of flying entirely on solar energy, completed its first 24 hour flight. The voyage broke world records for altitude reached by a solar plane at nearly 28,000 feet, and most significantly for flying a mission through the night. This summer the Solar Impulse hopes to surpass its previous record by undertaking a 48 hour flight over more than 1,500 miles to Morocco, powered entirely on stored solar energy.
The plane weighs about as much as an average car, with a wingspan of about 200 feet across, equivalent to an Airbus A340. The aircraft is propelled by four motors attached underneath the wings, which conserve heat created by their batteries to keep them running – even at extremely cold temperatures at higher altitudes. The Solar Impulse was designed to be piloted by a single person who must manage the plane’s energy resources, as well as their own.
The plane begins flight with a full battery that the pilot must use economically to remain in the air for the length of the mission. Perhaps the most significant challenge faced by the company is the effects longer flight times in cramped quarters will have on the aircraft’s pilot, who cannot take a break or use a traditional restroom while in flight.
The company continues to work on extensive flight simulations with its chief pilot and co-founder, AndrÃ© Borschberg, testing both diet and endurance to prepare for the non-stop 48 hour flight ahead. Borschberg will be given food specifically designed during the simulations to maximize energy and minimize digestive stress. The pilot’s seat features an integrated toilet and allows for a diverse range of positions to help alleviate the discomfort of sitting for such long periods of time, which the pilot supplements with sitting yoga exercises.
The solar innovation company is hoping the 48 hour flight will be a good practice run for its planned trip around the world in 2014. The flight to Morocco is scheduled to happen in May or June of this year, and video of the mission will stream live on the Solar Impulse website, featuring a moving map and virtual cockpit.