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Transportation Power Technology

Solar-Powered Plane Makes First Successful Flight 118

Posted by timothy
from the finally-a-daytime-launch dept.
lilbridge writes "The Solar Impulse, a solar-powered plane covered in 12,000 solar cells, took its maiden flight today in Switzerland. The plane stayed aloft for 87 minutes, performing test maneuvers as well as completing a successful takeoff and landing. With the first test flight behind them, the developers can focus on gearing up for their around-the-world solar powered flight set for 2012."
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Solar-Powered Plane Makes First Successful Flight

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  • That's pretty bold of them, attempting a round the world solar powered flight test during the Apocalypse. God speed.
    • by Rei (128717)

      Are you kidding? It'll keep them away away from the waves/radiation/zombies/whatnot. It's brilliant!

    • by G00F (241765)

      Who needs a giant boat made in China when you can be flying with unlimited fuel?

      Just need to have a speed to keep you in sunlight all the time, which is about 1100mph at the equator in flight, less if you go north/south or fly lower to the ground. Being how this s in Switzerland, looks like the craft can operate in less than ideal solar conditions (far from equator) plus at their latitude they wont have to travel as fast to stay in daylight. Or can use battery power when not in daylight.

      In any case, an air

      • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

        In any case, an aircraft that isn't dependent on a stored fuel source is ideal for an Apocalypse.

        Only if the seats are wide enough.

      • by vlm (69642)

        Just need to have a speed to keep you in sunlight all the time, which is about 1100mph at the equator in flight, less if you go north/south or fly lower to the ground.

        Don't forget its zero MPH for certain times of the year around the poles, and you can glide airplanes.

        Lets assume a healthy, perhaps overoptimistic 10:1 glide ratio. And they get up to a rather optimistic 53k feet aka 10 miles over a roughly sea level surface. So, they can glide 100 miles. Lets say it handles like an alaskan bush plane and stalls at 33 MPH. That means 3 hours of glide time, assuming no thermals (at least shortly after sundown) or ridge lift.

        I suppose a big enough solar panel might gener

  • I get the same giddy enthusiasm that I got back in the '80's with the Voyager.
    But that is a very interesting question about which direction they would fly.
    I would venture they might take tradewinds/jet stream into account, perhaps some thermal updrafts too, over merely following the sun.

  • Does it store enough energy so it can fly late evening or during rain?
    • by godrik (1287354)

      I recall reading about the weather issue for solar panel on roofs. The study said the solar panel kept most of its efficiency when it is cloudy. I wish I have a pointer to the article.

      • by dwywit (1109409)
        Uh, no. I live off-grid with 2.5KW of PV on the roof. I can assure you that the input current drops dramatically when a cloud covers the sun, and drops more when clouds cover most of the sky, and drops to zero in very heavy rain. I've seen as little as 2 or 3 amps coming in during heavy overcast/rain, when a sunny day in spring or autumn can see 60 or even 70 amps at midday (the panels are angled at 26 degrees which actually gives me a higher peak current during spring and autumn than during summer - more a
    • Secret labs are working on a stealth version that flies exclusively at night ... wait there's a flaw in there somewhere ... DOH!
    • by hAckz0r (989977)
      They would likely be flying above the clouds, if possible, so rain would not matter much, except for avoiding the major storms. The flight characteristics are likely similar to the http://www.nasa.gov/centers/dryden/news/FactSheets/FS-034-DFRC.html [nasa.gov] Pathfinder but with battery technology and materials improvements they will do better than the 14-15 hours aloft of pathfinder. Their nighttime flight was limited to 2-5 hours, likely due to the battery technology of the day. The trade off with this plane is tha
      • by c6gunner (950153)

        They would likely be flying above the clouds, if possible, so rain would not matter much, except for avoiding the major storms.

        That's all well and good, but it raises a new issue: how do they plan to bring enough breathing oxygen for a trip that's likely to take weeks? Hypoxia might not be an issue for a few hours, if you're acclimated, but it IS going to be a problem.

  • by Last_Available_Usern (756093) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @12:45PM (#31763948)
    Partly cloudy with a 100% chance of crash.
  • by KGBear (71109) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @12:53PM (#31764022) Homepage
    What we need is a solar-powered plane capable of safely carrying a couple dozen people 500 miles.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by oldspewey (1303305)
      Who are these two dozen people, and where exactly are you taking them?
    • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

      What we need is a solar-powered plane capable of safely carrying a couple dozen people 500 miles.

      And a little bit of legroom, please.

      And some fresher Oreo crackers.

    • by potat0man (724766)
      What we need is a solar-powered plane capable of safely carrying a couple dozen people 500 miles.

      No! What we NEED are rainbow-colored machines that turn tap water into oreo cookies. Why aren't they working on THAT???
  • This [nasa.gov] represents the first solar-powered flights ever. Not the plane in this article.

    I guess we've forgotten:

    • Sunrise II - November 4, 1974
    • Gossamer Penguin - May 18, 1980 (solar powered flight), August 7, 1980 (solar-powered public demo)
    • Solar Challenger - July 7, 1981 (cross-Channel flight)
    • Pathfinder - September 11, 1995 (reached record altitude of 50,500ft); April (or sometime later, article doesn't say) 1997 (set new record for both prop and solar powered planes with altitude of 71,530ft)
    • Pathfinder-Plus -
    • The title isn't saying that this is the first solar-powered plane to have a successful flight. They are saying this is the first successful flight that this specific solar-powered plane has taken.

    • There's a little more beyond that. Helios eventually crashed [nasa.gov], but not before making it to 96,863 feet.
      • There is, but I left of Centurion and Helios because I couldn't get any dates or flight data from my source. I'm sure a little more checking on that would have provided that information (and thank you for the link) but I felt it was beyond the scope of what I was going at.

        There's a Business Insider article where the author makes the claim for "first solar-powered flight" without any caveat of it being first for that plane/company. I sent him a polite email informing him of his error with a request for corre

    • by bughunter (10093)

      This [nasa.gov] represents the first solar-powered flights ever.

      And we're still working on them. [darpa.mil]

      • I'm sure we are. That's not really the issue here. The title came across (at first) as sounding as if this was another (false) claim of making the first ever solar powered flight.

        Even so, the submission is little more than a shill for the company. It's neither impressive or nerdy and really doesn't matter. Seven years for their maiden test flight and now no more big demos until 2012? Puh-lease. I could have lived my entire life without hearing about this. Now if it was, as someone else suggested in another

    • by nedlohs (1335013) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @01:22PM (#31764412)

      Are you an idiot?

      They aren't claiming first ever solar flight.

      They aren't claiming that the solar thing is new and amazing.

      They aren't claiming it is impressive in itself.

      They are claiming it's a significant milestone on the path to their goal.

      • No, but the submitter sure is a troll.

        The company who has this "milestone" isn't making any of those claims that I can see. The submitter is being a bit disingenuous though.

    • Really? And this is impressive how? Seven years to reinvent existing technology? Puh-lease.

      Yeah, the first thing I thought was "that looks like every other solar plane I've seen since I was a kid."

      • It's not even the first one this millennium. Business Insider had an article about one last year.

        http://www.businessinsider.com/solar-plane-finally-flies-2009-12 [businessinsider.com]

        The author of that article is clearly ignorant of NASA's achievements since 1974.

        According to this site

        http://solar-flight.com/ [solar-flight.com]

        They are already working on a two-seater that appears to take off under its own power.

        So the only thing the Swiss having going for them is making a 'round the world flight in 2012 (please, keep any end-of-days comments to yo

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      Yeah, I was pretty shocked to read such a thing too. Until I read a different claim in an article : they say that it is the first time a solar-powered plane takes-off, flies and lands. All the others seem to have reached mid-air as gliders with a tractor plane. Does any of the plane you mention used to take off from the ground ?
    • by potat0man (724766)
      Really? And this is impressive how? Seven years to reinvent existing technology? Puh-lease.

      So, then, what impressive thing have you been doing for the past seven years?
      • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

        Not wasting my time trying to build something that's already been built. If they would have taken existing technology they probably could have cut down their development time.

        Want to fly around the world in a solar powered plane? Fine, that's all well and good. No one else has a manned flight around the world in a solar powered plane. But, it's just not that impressive. I've spent the last seven years shooting for the stars, but I've not run and told every Tom, Dick and Bjorn about it when I reach a small s

  • 44mph (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MooseTick (895855) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @12:58PM (#31764086) Homepage

    The article says the plane averages 44mph (70kph). At that rate it will take about 24 days to circle the earth if they tried it in a single flight. Hopefully they will be able to get a little more speed before they try that.

  • but how much did it cost?

    it didnt say that in TFA
  • And for a round the world flight, I'll definitely need one of those in-seat video whats its and some stiff drinks. I'll bet the emergency videos are really tedious. *sniff*
  • The first solar powered aircraft took wing in the 1600's. As told in The Mysterious Cities of Gold! [retrojunk.com]
  • I fail to see what this has to do with iPad but now that YOU brought it up... Can I charge my iPad while flying in this thing?????

  • This thing is nearly as big as a bomber. Seems to me the square-cube law (with power going with square and weight to be flown going with cube) would favor smaller machines - unless the density of the solar cells combined with a fixed thickness, and/or the weight of the control computer and hardware, imposed a limit.

  • It's not good until it can also be driven on the roads. I WANT MY FLYING CAR.

fortune: cpu time/usefulness ratio too high -- core dumped.