Solar Impulse starting 2010 (Solar Impulse / Keystone / Pool / Laurent Gillieron)
Two solar powered planes made headlines in the news recently: The “Solar Impulse” project run by Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, two Swiss entrepreneurs, as well as the British “Zephyr” project run by QinetiQ, which is a company with close ties to the defense and security sector.
The Zephyr is designed to be a spy drone aircraft and it currently has broken the world record of continuous unmanned flying: It has been seen up in the air for a full week without landing since July 12th: 168 hours of non-stop flight more than doubling it's previous record of 83 hours set in 2008. It remained in the air until 23rd of July 2010 before the plane finished a total of 14 days and nights of non-stop flying. The BBC has a video of a takeoff of this plane.
While the Zephyr is designed as a military surveillance drone, the Swiss Solar Impulse project aims to be a cultural and scientific mission and features a lot of information on their website, including an own Solar Impulse TV Channel. It is also a tremendous educational platform, whose importance will culminate during the missions. With each flight, the pilot and team will be kept in contact with the public via institutional connections. Moreover, by making a stop-over on each continent, they will go and meet the local authorities and people, in order to promote the technologies which will be indispensable in assuring the energy future of the planet.
The Solar Impulse website states: “In fact, aren't we all on Earth in the same situation as the Solar Impulse pilot? If he does not have the right technologies or wastes his energy, he will have to land before the rising sun enables him to continue his flight. And we, if we do not invest in the scientific means to develop new energy sources, we shall find ourselves in a major crisis, which will prevent us from handing over the planet to the next generation.”
The Solar Impulse project can be supported in many ways. Check out the Supporters Program at their website.
If you are interested in the history of solar powered planes, check out the information on electric aircraft on Wikipedia.