First glimpse of solar-powered plane draws big crowd

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The Solar Impulse 100% solar-powered aircraft was unveiled near Zurich on June 26th. (Photo: Stephane Gros/Solar Impulse)

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After six long years of planning, talking and hard work, the world finally got its first look at the 100% solar-powered Solar Impulse HB-SIA on June 26th. This remarkable feat of engineering, with the wingspan of a Boeing 747 but only the weight of an average family car, has over 12,000 solar cells powering four electric motors with a maximum power of 10HP. The aircraft prototype is expected to take its first flights before the end of the year.

The unveiling attracted over 800 people to the Dübendorf airfield near Zurich, and was watched live online around the world. The project’s founders, Betrand Piccard and André Borschberg, were obviously delighted to finally have a working model, but they were also emphatic that it was just as important as a symbol for promoting renewable energy. They believe that the pioneering spirit that saw man conquer the skies and then space should, in a world dominated by fossil fuels, be now attempting to find ways to end our dependence on oil.

The HB-SIA is the first aircraft completed by the Solar Impulse project and, after some further fine-tuning, will make its maiden test flights before the end of 2009. A complete night flight is planned for 2010. Data from the tests will be used to build a second aircraft, the HB-SIB, which will attempt to circumnavigate the word in 2012.

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