Are solar-powered worldwide flights possible? In May, we mentioned an experimental solar aircraft that was trying to take its first transcontinental flight but had been delayed by fog. Now, that same plane has been delayed a second time, attempting to fly over Morocco’s Atlas Mountains but being prevented by high winds.
“Because of [the plane's] big size and low speed, we cannot go into areas of heavy turbulence like the big commercial planes can,” Borschberg told The Associated Press from the cockpit of his aircraft as he flew over Morocco’s coastline near Casablanca recently.
His airplane, the delicate and lightweight Solar Impulse, has a wing span the size of a commercial jet but a weight closer to the size of a family car, meaning it’s highly vulnerable to harsh weather conditions. Its battery-powered turboprop engines get recharged by the 12,000 solar cells covering its body, but that relies on the sun. The plane is the only solar-powered craft of it kind, one which can fly day and night.
The reason for setting Morocco as the first destination for a transcontinental flight with the solar plane is because of the country’s push towards large solar energy plants. By 2020, Morocco plans to build five solar plants to produce 2,000 megawatts of power, making it possible to get 40% of its energy for renewable sources and even to export energy to Europe.
By 2014, Borschberg hopes to fly an improved version of the plane around the world—but it would have to be via a course chosen for the most temperate weather. While solar-powered planes are never expected to replace typical, fuel-powered jets, what Borschberg’s attempts have showcased already is the incredible possibilities that exist with solar power.
(Image source: News.com.au)