Solar-powered plane to fly around the world

What if someone told you that by the year 2015 an airplane would be flown around the world without burning a single drop of fossil fuel? Instead, the craft will be powered completely by solar energy.

In 2009, Solar Impulse took to the skies for the first time. The following year, its pilot, Andre Borschberg, set an endurance record after flying the uniquely designed plane for 26 consecutive hours. All this was done, as a recent article in Popular Mechanics explains, thanks to solar power and state-of-the-art onboard batteries that stored the energy for use even after the sun had set.

The news source reports that Borschberg and his colleague, Bertrand Piccard, have set even loftier goals for Solar Impulse and its presently under-construction sequel, Solar Impulse 2. In May of 2013, Borschberg will pilot the aircraft in 20 to 30-hour stretches from the Bay Area in California across the nation, landing at a several points along the way to New York City with an ETA of late June.

In 2015, Solar Impulse 2, which is currently halfway through the construction process, will set out on a journey around the globe. Borschberg told Popular Mechanics that the real challenge lies in building a plane that weighs as much as a car but uses the same amount of energy as a scooter and can fly for up to five consecutive days at a time – not exactly something you would expect to circuit the Earth in.

"In the 21st century, explorers have the responsibility of bringing solutions to the big problems of humanity," Piccard added, saying that Solar Impulse is about showing that you don't need fossil fuels to fly.

We've talked about alternative energy technologies in many forms throughout this blog, but powering an airplane with solar energy is a first. In a project like this, the aircraft must be designed and constructed with precision or it and the pilot will be in grave danger. Since something like this is not typically done, innovative solar panel soldering techniques are critical for the project's success.

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