Coverage of the flight doesn’t provide a whole lot of technical information on the aircraft. There must be feature stories on this, in English, that dive into the science and engineering behind this thing. But nothing turns up in the usual searches. Two years ago after its maiden test flight Wired‘s Jason Paur wrote on that, but had only basic specs. The venture’s website hasn’t much, either, that is easily uncovered. I got desperate and resorted to Wikipedia, which did list in its footnotes the PDF in Grist below that has some inkling of how it’s built.
It’s hardly the first solar-powered aircraft of its general type. Twenty years ago the Gossamer Penguin, built by Aerovironment in California, carried a pilot into the air on the power of sunshine. And about nine years ago another Aerovironment aircraft, the unmanned Helios, provided evidence why airplanes with wingspans long or longer than those of jumbo jets, but weighing less than a smallish car and propelled by motors with the muscle of a moped, can be tricky. That’s Helios to the left before and during breakup in the air. Turbulence plus an alteration to the original weight distribution were a bad combo.
Solar Impulse off-for-Morocco stories:
- AP – Frank Jordans: Solar plane begins 1st transcontinental flight ; Hmm. Seems to me that transcontinental means spanning once continent’s breadth. Intercontinental might be better. Plus, whether flying across the Strait of Gibraltar counts as intercontinental or transcontinental in any impressive sense is doubtful. As a general rule, if the quality by which a word evokes a strong emotional response is not actually in thing to which a reporter is tempted to associate it, don’t. That’s one reason so many people get riled when listening to Newt Gingrich. He calls almost everything he does historic.
- Daily Mail – Eddie Wrenn: Who needs petrol? Solar plane flies from Switzerland to Spain without using a drop of fuel (although it did take 24 hours) ; The ironic tone of hed is right, the story a bit thin on original reporting, but the selection of illus is terrific, as usual with the Mail and perhaps the only solid reason to ever read this cheeky pub with its loose association with common sense and deep dependence on sensation and celebrity antics. Hmm. Maybe fun is a solid reason to read it?
- AFP – Solar Impulse ready for first intercontinental flight ;
- NPR Two-Way Blog – Eyder Peralta: Huge Solar Plane Tries For First Transcontinental Flight ; There goes that ‘transcontinental’ misuse (by my lights anyway) again.
Related News on Flying Light and Powered by Light:
- MSNBC Future of Tech – John Roach: Solar truck to sail from soccer fields ; Yes, but no regular truck.It’s an inflated flying truck shaped like a fat moth. For Grist on this, see the company site, SolarShip.
- Toronto Star (Oct 2011) Tyler Hamilton: Toronto start-up designs solar-powered hybrid aircraft ; Same topic as preceding bullet’s story. Both are scant on technical detail.
- Denver Post – Ann Schrader: Two Colorado companies create less-costly vehicle to send into stratosphere ; First, see, you lift your giant solar-powered airplane up there under a balloon measuring 300 feet by 200 feet horizontally, and 90 feet thick. Then you drop the airplane to fly around on solar power for six months. Grist for this is at Bye Aerospace.
Barely Related News on Solar Power:
- AAAS-Science/ScienceNOW – Robert Service: Solid Advance for Cheap Solar Cells; It’s about a better way to construct a class of solar cell so easy to make while fairly efficient that it generically has gotten lots of people excited for years. Alas it had too little endurance for wide use. Nobody much wrote up the news behind the Northwestern University lab exercise, but glad Service did. The report is in Nature. Instinct says it could lead to something big, not that my instincts are particularly great. One thing Service should have done. In describing a source he quotes as not involved in the research he might have added that the same fellow wrote the news commentary on this for Nature. EurekAlert! has the Northwestern U. Press Release;
– Charlie Petit