Solar Impulse wingspan compared to an A340 (photo © Solar Impulse / EPFL)
Tue 19 Feb 2008 – The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has become an Institutional Partner of Solar Impulse, an emission-free airplane that aims to fly around the world in 2011 using no fuel and propelled only by solar energy. IATA will provide assistance in obtaining air traffic control clearance to ensure the smooth passage of the flight.
Signing the agreement, Giovanni Bisignani, Director General and CEO of IATA, commented: “Solar Impulse and IATA share a vision. We are natural partners. We are both looking towards a zero carbon-emission future for air travel. Solar power is one of the building blocks that will make this happen. The Solar Impulse initiative is proof that with vision, anything is possible – even carbon-free flight.”
The initiator and President of Solar Impulse, Bertrand Piccard, responded: “Our future freedom relies on us converting to renewable energy sources as soon as possible. In this sense, the vision set by IATA to eliminate all polluting emissions [from aviation] within the next 50 years is admirable.”
A member of the famous family of explorers, Piccard heads a team of 50 people, mainly engineers, and is supported by more than 100 scientific advisors. A Patrons Committee has been formed to support the venture that includes diverse luminaries such as astronaut Buzz Aldrin, writer Paulo Coelho and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Elie Wiesel.
Initiator of the Orbiter project, in March 1999 Bertrand Piccard successfully completed the first non-stop round-the-world balloon flight, together with Brian Jones, at the same time achieving the longest flight in the history of aviation in terms of distance and duration. His grandfather, Auguste, who was a friend of Albert Einstein and Marie Curie, pioneered modern aviation and the conquest of space with the invention of the pressurized cabin and the stratospheric balloon.
Auguste then applied the principle of his stratospheric balloon to invent the revolutionary underwater bathyscaphe (or bathyscape). With his son Jacques, he dived to 3,150 metres in 1953. Jacques made several record dives with Auguste before he himself reached the deepest point of the oceans at 10,916 metres in the MariannesTrench. Discovering fish living at this depth and the proof of the existence of ocean currents between the sea bed and the surface, this historical dive helped to dispel the commonly held belief at the time that it was possible to get rid of highly toxic waste by throwing it into the abysses of the oceans.
Two airplanes are being built. The prototype, registration number HB-SIA, will have a 61-metre wingspan and weigh 1500kg, and the final version (HB-SIA) is likely to have an 80-metre wingspan – similar to that of the Airbus A340 – and weigh 2000kg. The wings have to form a large enough surface area for the number of photovoltaic cells required and also to reduce the induced drag.
The prototype, still in construction, is due to be completed by the end of the year with a test flight planned shortly afterwards, and will need to demonstrate the feasibility of flying at night as well as by day. The energy stored during the day will not only have to propel the plane, but also recharge the batteries for night-time flying. In 2011, Piccard and Solar Impulse CEO André Borschberg expect to separately fly the airplane around the world, following a route along the Tropic of Cancer, with five stopovers planned. The stopovers will allow for a change of pilot and to show the airplane to the public as well as scientific and political bodies.
Each leg of the flight will last from four to five days, which is considered the maximum that a single pilot can sustain. Once proven efficiency of the batteries has enabled a reduction in their weight, the airplane will be able to carry two pilots on long-haul flights, and a non-stop round-the-world flight will become possibility, says the company.
“To achieve IATA’s vision, there are little more than 40 years left to find a way to increase the payload to a few hundred passengers,” said Piccard.
Added Bisignani: “Achieving zero carbon passenger flights will not happen overnight and no single initiative can provide all the answers. But the airline industry was born by realising a dream that people could fly. We can already see the potential building blocks for a carbon-free future: along with solar power, other exciting initiatives include progress in fuel cell technology, and fuel made from biomass. By working together with a common vision, an even greener industry is absolutely achievable.”
The 70 million euro ($100m) Swiss-based project has the financial and technical support of a range of institutions, including Deutsche Bank, Omega, Dassault Aviation, Solvay, the European Space Agency and the Sustainable Flight Foundation.
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