Solar Impulse takes successful solar-powered spin, engineers ready plane for February flight.
At the Dübendorf airfield in Switzerland on Thursday, the Solar Impulse HB-SIA taxied down the runway powered by its own engines for the very first time. The solar-powered plane was built by The Solar Impulse Foundation and is designed to fly with its power generated by solar panels--both day and night.
Not quite ready for prime time? Maybe. During the test trip for the HB-SIA on Friday, the plane never left the ground, nor was it ever supposed to.
“The runway tests are necessary and involve a certain amount of risk for the landing gear. The chances of damaging the plane are greatest during low-speed ground manoeuvres. The faster the plane goes the more lift it gets from its wings, meaning that there is less load on the wheels,” explains André Borschberg, co-founder and CEO of Solar Impulse.
With the wingspan of a Boeing 747-400 and weighing a little less than a Toyota Camry, the craft has a tremendous amount of surface area for generating both upward lift and solar energy.
After making its first public appearance in June, the solar-powered HB-SIA appears to be on track for manned flight by early 2010.
"We just can’t wait to see it fly, culminating 6 years of work", said Bertrand Piccard, the initiator of Solar Impulse. But Piccard and others also realize they still have some work cut out for them.
The next stage in development for the plane will involve taking the prototype up to its 35 km/h take-off speed and performing several “flea hops”. According to Solar Impulse, the next step is critical because they will be collecting data that has been completely unexplored thus far.
If all goes well with the flea hops, the Solar Impulse team will prepare the plane to for its two-hour maiden voyage in February. Pending a successful trip, the team will likely build a new craft for a trip across the Atlantic in 2012.
All images courtesy of the Solar Impulse Foundation