Wednesday, 25 Feb, 2009 Technology

Latest Invention: First Solar-Powered Aircraft to Fly Around the World


The Swiss psychiatrist and balloonist, Bertrand Piccard, is currently working on the development of his latest invention - world's first airplane that will be able to fly around the globe using only solar power.

His grandfather was Auguste Piccard and his father was Jacques Piccard. Both were famous balloonists and inventors. Auguste Piccard was the one to create the pressurized cabin and the stratospheric balloon, which was able to fly up to 16,201 meters, when launched back in 1932. He was also the one to invent the Bathyscaphe, a submarine that in 1952 managed to dive to 3150 meters.

Jacques Piccard, Bertrand's father, broke the world record with deepest-ever dive. He went down 7 miles to the bottom of the Marianas Trench. In addition, he was the one to create the first passenger submarine in the world.

As for Bertrand, than it is worth mentioning that the balloonist managed to make the first non-stop trip around the globe in a balloon, registering the longest flight in the history of aviation. Now the inventor works on Solar Impulse project, a solar-powered aircraft. Together with his team Bertrand wants to promote renewable energies. The inventor hopes Solar Impulse will succeed in making a tour around the world without fuel.

At the moment engineers are working on the first prototype of the plane at Dubendorf, Switzerland. One of the main goals is to create a new-generation aircraft that will boast a low weight, smart energy management systems as well as high performance storage elements.

Its wingspan will be 80 metres, which is wider than that of an Airbus A380. This will minimize drag and provide more space for solar cells. Engineers will install a layer of ultra-thin solar cells, which will be flexible enough to resist deformations and vibrations.

It is hoped that the aircraft will be tested later this year and the second prototype will be built in 2010. The Solar Impulse team hopes to real flight around the world will take place in 2011. The main funding for the project comes from Solvay, Omega, and Deutsche Bank.

Technical help comes from the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL), a Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland, the European Space Agency (ESA) and Dassault, a French group of firms under the management of Serge Dassault.

Additional information on the project can be found on Solar Impulse website .

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