The Impulse solar-powered plane is on a mission to circumnavigate the globe purely on solar energy. Its Swiss pilot is facing the biggest challenge ever not only for a solar plane but also any type of aircraft as he embarks on a historic 130-hour flight from Nanjing, China to Hawaii, USA.
This leg of the maiden solar-powered flight is the longest duration flight ever to be attempted. The pilot will be confined to his single seat cockpit for about five nights on his way across the Pacific Ocean while traveling an astonishing 8,1722 Km at 50-100 Km/h. Throughout the flight, the pilot will be in direct contact with the control station at Monaco, France. It is monitoring the meteorological conditions along the route and they don’t seem to be too good at the moment.
The plane itself is a curious piece of engineering. It has a 72-meter wingspan that is larger than an actual Boeing 747 itself. The weight, however, tells us the other side of the story as it weighs only 2.3 tons equivalent to that of two small cars. The reason behind lesser weight is the innovative design that makes it look more like a glider than an airplane and the fact that the aircraft was made from carbon fiber used in competitive sailing nowadays. This material is three times lighter than aluminium itself.
There are four electric motors powering propellers. They are powered by 17,248 solar panels that are installed on the wings. Then there are high-density Lithium polymer batteries weighing 633 Kg in all. The panels drive it during the day while charging the battery at the same time. In the night, the plane is powered by the battery. The backup time is such that it has an unlimited range as long as the batteries are kept working, and the Sun gives ample energy in the day time.
The Impulse started its journey from Abu Dhabi in March this year making stops at Oman, India, Burma and Chongqing, China before reaching Nanjing for the ultimate leg ahead. The plane took off a few days ago and with worsening weather, the flight could be abandoned. If everything goes right, the plane will rewrite aviation history due to its unlimited aerial endurance that is a critical technological innovation in recent years. Imagine how handy it could become if it were to take some load off satellites? Give us your comments in the section below