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‘Solar Impulse’ Readies for Night Test Flights

June 15, 2010 — The Solar Impulse HB-SIA is ready to enter a new test phase to demonstrate that it is possible to fly at night in an aircraft powered only by solar energy.

Solar Impulse said today that its solar airplane has completed eight test flights since April 7, allowing the company to optimize the aircraft and their pilots to confirm the plane’s aerodynamic performance.

Testing will now concentrate on flying day and night to validate the possibility of long-duration flights without any fuel. Tests would “very likely” take place between June 20-30. The exact date will be announced 72 hours in advance.

“To fly day and night with a solar aircraft is a human and technological challenge that has never been met so far, and an essential stage of the project,” said André Borschberg, Solar Impulse’s CEO and co-founder. “Demonstrating that we can fly a whole day and night will then permit us to fly several successive cycles and come close to perpetual flight.”

“The big question will be whether the pilot will be able to save sufficient energy as to fly right through the night,” said Bertrand Piccard, initiator and chairman. “These night flights in an aircraft propelled uniquely by solar energy are intended to demonstrate the potential of the renewable energies and the technologies that will gradually enable us to diminish our dependence on oil.”

Solar Impulse took a big step toward reaching its goal in late May when, for the first time, the 12,000 solar cells on the wings of its aircraft produced more energy than the aircraft was consuming, providing thrust for the engines with enough power left over to start charging the batteries. On the first circuit on May 28, Borschberg used up the energy that had been stored in the batteries overnight; on the second flight he activated the solar cells for the first time and began to recharge the batteries.

If their 24-hour flight is a success, it will be the first important step toward using renewable solar energy in a continuous manner.

"If we can do a day-and-night cycle once, we will be able to do it again and again,” Borschberg told the BBC. “The next step would be to start flying long duration flights - and the first big milestone would be to fly over the Atlantic.”

In 2013, the company also plans to fly a solar-powered aircraft around the world in five stages.

"We'd like to demonstrate that we could really reduce our energy consumption,” Borschberg said. “We're flying with the power of a scooter - and if we can do it in the air, we can certainly do it on the ground as well.”


The Solar Impulse HB-SIA has completed eight test flights, and is now ready to begin night tests, powered only by its solar panels. Photo credit: Solar Impulse

The HB-SIA has 12,000 solar cells on its wings.
Photo credit: Solar Impulse

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