The first manned solar-powered plane designed to navigate the globe solely on the power of the sun, Solar Impulse 2, is complete! The new plane was unveiled today (April 9). This is the second version of the ultralight plane that Bertrand Piccard, André Borschberg and their team have completed in their quest to fly around the globe in a solar-powered plane, including overnight without needing to touch down.
In the first Solar Impulse plane Piccard and Borschbergtraversed much of Europe, crossed the U.S. and flew overnight using just the solar cells on the plane’s giant wings and the batteries powered by the solar cells. However, the new version of the plane is designed for the longer rigors of a solo, multi-day flight, which could include up to five consecutive days and nights between continents without landing.
The first plane already set records and drew crowds wherever it lumbered through the air like a giant balsa airplane. While there are solar-powered airfoils anddrones that have stayed aloft for longer durations and plans for even longer-flying drones, this will be a first for a manned airplane.
“A vision counts for nothing unless it is backed up by action. With 8 world records for Solar Impulse 1, the first solar aircraft capable of flying during the night, crossing two continents and flying over the United States, we have shown that clean technologies and renewable energies can accomplish the impossible,” said a delighted Bertrand Piccard, founder and chairman of Solar Impulse.
“Now we need to go even further,” added André Borschberg, co-founder and CEO. “Solar Impulse 2 will have virtually unlimited autonomy, and now we need to make sure the pilot is as sustainable as his aircraft. This is why the round-the-world flight will be as much a human as a technological feat.”
The new plane has a wingspan of 236 feet—close to the length of a football field—but weighs about 5,000 pounds—about the weight of a truck. For all that size, however, the pilot cabin is only nearly 4 cubic meters.
The two will attempt the circumnavigation in March 2015. That will allow them time to test all components of the new plane. They plan to start training and testing the new plane in May.