Aerospace enthusiasts Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard were able to take on the challenge of building the world’s first solar plane that runs on its self-created energy alone. They went through two prototypes, Solar Impulse 1 and Solar Impulse 2. Solar Impulse 2 being the largest success. The plane is entirely run on solar energy and can sustain flight for 21 hours and 58 minutes. Solar Impulse went on to achieve feats.
It took almost 9 years of buildup for Solar Impulse Inc. to develop and construct the craft. Apart from having to design high-efficiency photovoltaic panels (a fancy word for solar panels), they also had to create them in such a way that they could be molded into the shape of the custom made wing. As well as getting the power source up to speed, Solar Impulse Inc. also had to work on creating a lightweight alternative to generators/motors, to transfer the electric energy into a mechanical/rotational force to turn the propeller blades. They finally produced 4 custom electric motors that were powered by 4 21 kWh Lithium-ion batteries, and that produced an entire 10 horsepower together.
Solar On July 26th, 2016, Solar Impulse 2 made its way back to Abu Dhabi, where it complete the world’s first ever circumnavigation flight using only solar energy. Its pilots, André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard were relieved when their fragile craft made a graceful landing, after more than 16 months from when they left. The aircraft was scheduled to return in the August of 2015, but after major thermal damage to the specially designed lithium-ion batteries, during the phase of its flight from Japan to Hawaii. It was grounded for many months in Hawaii while repairs were made. After 16 months of repair, Solar Impulse 2 resumed its flight.
The Solar Impulse 2 cost roughly $170 Million dollars to produce. The Company is looking to produce more 100% solar powered aircraft, but their future is to make all of these aircraft unmanned, to take the place of weather balloons and other scientific equipment in the upper atmosphere. The new generation of unmanned aircraft will glide around in the jet stream found at flight levels higher than 50,000’, and will conduct weather surveys, scientific experiments, and the US military is looking into the possibilities of establishing semi-permanent spy planes in the upper atmosphere.