Meet the Solar Impulse. Eventually, the plane will circumnavigate the globe using nothing but solar power. Before that historic trip, however, the solar-powered airplane must pass a few tests. And earlier this month, the Impulse passed its first.
The Solar Impulse has a 60-meter wingspan with over 12,000 solar cells cloaking those wings and powering the plane’s four electric motors. Excess power is stored in more than 400 kilograms (~882 lbs.) of batteries.
Bertrand Piccard, the famed aeronaut who piloted the first balloon flight around the world, ran some runway tests on the plane with the Impulse team earlier in November. The plane powered up its four solar electric motors, and at low speed, taxied up and down the runway. With the success of its first test, the next will see the plane get up to takeoff speed and even take a few “hops” off the ground. Again, all these small steps will eventually lead to the biggest of them all: a 100 percent solar-powered flight around the world.
Photos: Solar Impulse