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Engineering a Zero-fuel Airplane

Erin Tallman
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“Too big, too light and impossible to control in flight,” aviation specialists said—apart from Dassault—believing the challenge unattainable.

Contrary to belief, the Solar Impulse 2 ended its ’round-the-world flight in July 2016 without having consumed a drop of fuel. Powered only by the sun’s energy, and piloted by Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg—the Swiss duo behind its creation—the Solar Impulse covered 40,000 km in 17 legs and 15 months; crossing Asia, the Pacific, the U.S., the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

“The Solar Impulse project is a remarkable accomplishment that I believe we will eventually look back upon as a Lindbergh moment for electric flight.” Rob McDonald, Development Leader for OpenVSP aircraft software, told ArchiExpo e-Magazine.

Bertrand Piccard, a medical doctor specialized in psychiatry, explorer and aeronaut, who made the first nonstop around-the-world balloon flight, is the initiator and chairman. André Borschberg, an engineer and graduate in management science, a fighter pilot and a professional airplane and helicopter pilot, is the co-founder and CEO. The former’s avant-garde vision and the latter’s entrepreneurial and managerial experience have resulted in record breaking historical marks and a bright sustainable future.

While Solar Impulse 2 is not the first solar airplane, it is the first to fly day and night, without any fuel, only using energy stored in its batteries. It is also the first to have crossed oceans. The plane’s unusual look undoubtedly helped the message of the project to be spread worldwide. The wingspan of a Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet, the weight of a family car and the power of a small motorcycle, Solar Impulse 2 is the largest aircraft ever built with such a low weight.

All information and quotes have been acquired via the Solar Impulse team’s PR and website. After an around-the-world flight in 15 months, the team was understandably unavailable for interviews. ArchiExpo e-Magazine commends this team on its achievements and looks forward to further development.

Courtesy of Solar Impulse
Courtesy of Solar Impulse

What is solar impulse?

Dayton, Ohio, USA, May 21st 2016: Solar Impulse successfully landed in Dayton, Ohio with André Borschberg at the controls. Departed from Abu Dhabi on march 9th 2015, the Round-the-World Solar Flight will take 500 flight hours and cover 35’000 km.

Landing in Cairo

Hawaii, United States of America, June 28, 2015: Solar Impusle 2 lands in Hawaii with André Borschberg at the controls.

Cairo, Egypt, July 13th 2016: Solar Impulse successfully landed in Cairo after 2 days of flight with André Borschberg at the controls.

Solar Impulse airplane - Best of the round-the-world

Abu Dhabi, UAE, July 26th 2016: Solar Impulse successfully landed in Abu Dhabi with Bertrand Piccard at the controls,

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