Observations of a Non-Scientist about Sustainable Living, Renewable Energy and the Power of the Sun.

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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Solar-Powered Plane Breaks World Record for Distance


Pilot André Borschberg touches down in Dallas after more than 18 hours in the air. Photo: Solar Impulse/Revillard/Revo.ch
Solar Impulse pilot André Borschberg completed a record-setting flight in the wee hours this morning after flying more than 950 miles on solar power alone, even if he was, strictly speaking, going backward for part of the trip.
His impressive flight from Phoenix to Dallas completed the second leg of the Solar Impulse team’s “Across America” trip which is expected to end in New York in early July. 

The enormous solar airplane, known simply by its Swiss registration HB-SIA — has roughly the same wingspan of a Boeing 747 yet weighs about as much as a Honda Accord and uses four 10-horsepower electric motors for propulsion.
We got to chat with Borschberg as he soared high over Texas en route to Dallas. He’s is a veteran pilot who flew fighter jets in the Swiss Air Force, but things are going just a bit more slowly on this trip. HB-SIA can’t even keep up with the cars zipping along on the highways below, as it typically cruises at about 30 mph.
That slow pace helps optimize its range. The four motors draw power from nearly 12,000 photovoltaic cells mounted on the wings and tail of the carbon fiber airplane. The cells also charge the batteries that power HB-SIA at night. Borschberg landed in Dallas with his batteries at about 60 percent, and will use that juice to begin the third leg of his journey.
The flight to Dallas was fairly smooth, with just a few sections of turbulence. Flying 832 nautical miles (957 miles) broke the team’s own distance record for a solar powered airplane (and for any electric airplane). 

It also provided valuable experience and expand the Solar Impulse team’s flight techniques for future flights — including their planned circumnavigation of the world in a larger aircraft in 2015.
“I think we learned more about how to steer this airplane in meteorology that is not entirely optimum,” Borschberg told us from the cockpit.
Another problem he faced was overcoming the speed of the wind moving against the airplane. 
Anybody who has experienced headwinds on an airliner knows fighting the wind lengthens your trip. For Borschberg, flying along at 30 mph in a strong headwind severely impaired forward motion.
Yes, as the headwind exceeded the speed of the airplane, Borschberg traveled backward relative to the ground.
The Solar Impulse team will be in Dallas at least through the holiday weekend before continuing on to St. Louis. The trip across America is a prelude to the team’s ultimate goal, a flight around the world in a new solar-powered airplane currently under construction in Switzerland.

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