January 21, 2010

Aircraft To Circle The World On Solar Power

Bernard Piccard is hoping to raise awareness about the potential for renewable energy by flying a solar-powered aircraft around the world.

At the recent World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, Piccard told AFP that he wants to "fly day and night to show that, with renewable energies, you can have unlimited duration of flight, no restriction."

Piccard held a booth at the summit to promote his venture.

Piccard, a 51-year-old Swiss psychiatrist, plans to fly his unique "Solar Impulse" aircraft around the world in 20 to 25 days, traveling at an average of 43 miles per hour. He will share the flying time with former Swiss fighter pilot, Andre Borschberg.

If an airplane can fly around the world with no fuel, then "nobody can say after that it's impossible to do it for cars, for heating systems, for air-conditioning, for computers and so on," he said.

The prototype of the Solar Impulse made its first test flight near Zurich in December. Solar panels stretch across the top of the 209-foot wingspan. The aim is for the solar panels to absorb energy to power the aircraft during the day, and also store energy in lithium polymer batteries to run the engines at night.

Aircraft manufacturers said that Piccard's specifications were impossible to meet, so he turned to a racing yacht manufacturer to build his plane.

The carbon-fiber plane is powered by four electric engines, each capable of producing a maximum of only 10 horsepower. The plane weighs approximately 3500 pounds, despite having a wingspan close to that of an Airbus A340, he said.

When asked what led him to attempt this unusual feat of promoting renewable energy, Piccard made it quite clear. "I come from a family of explorers, who always had a lot of concern for the environment and for natural resources," he said. His grandfather became the first man to explore the stratosphere (in a balloon). His father made the deepest dive ever in a submarine in 1960.

Piccard had already gained the public's attention, when, in 1999, he and Briton Brian Jones became the first men to complete a non-stop flight around the world in a hot-air balloon. Piccard says that venture gave him the fame to do useful things, which includes finding sponsors, money and support for his latest project.

The project is slated to cost about 100 million dollars when it is all said and done.

Piccard has been working on this project for seven years and still has a way to go. The solar flight is not expected to occur until 2012 or 2013.

More testing is scheduled this year. The aircraft will undergo high-altitude testing in both day and nighttime effects. If those tests go well, then modifications will be made to the prototype or a new plane will be built for the next trans-Atlantic flight test.

Piccard says that "We have to reproduce Lindbergh's flight with no fuel," referring to Charles Lindbergh, the first man to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean.

Piccard's one-man aircraft will have to land at different locations during the world flight so the pilots can switch off. He said that in addition to making pilot switches, it will give them opportunity to "present the technology of this airplane, to encourage people to use (the technology) also, for their daily life."

This venture is a new, positive step in promoting a renewable energy and conservation. Piccard, who attended the Copenhagen Climate Conference, observed how people are fed up with the alarmists and catastrophists. "People need solutions, not problems. So we have to demonstrate the solutions. We have to show that it's possible to do great things."


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