Dübendorf, Switzerland - The world's first solar powered plane designed to fly day and night, the Solar Impulse HB-SIA, has been unveiled. Its first night flight is expected to take place next year.
Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard and colleague André Borschberg claim that never before has such a large craft been built with such low weight - it has the wingspan of a Boeing 747-400 and the weight of an average family car, at 1600kg.
Over 12,000 solar cells mounted onto the wing will supply renewable energy to the four electric motors with a maximum power of 10HP each. During the day they will also charge the lithium-polymer batteries (400kg), which will permit the HB-SIA to fly through the night.
The HB-SIA is the first prototype of the Solar Impulse project. Its mission is to demonstrate the feasibility of a complete day-night-day cycle propelled solely by solar energy. After fine-tuning on the ground, the aircraft should make its first test flights between now and the end of 2009. A first complete night flight is planned for 2010.
The lessons learned will help to develop and build a second aircraft, the HB-SIB, with the aim of circumnavigating the world in five stages, each lasting several days, in 2012.
Supporters of the project can enroll on a website to receive news in real time, adopt a solar cell on the wing, reserve a VIP visit at the Solar Impulse base or place their names on the aircraft's fuselage.