Bertrand Piccard, one of the people behind the first non-stop flight in a balloon around the world, has founded yet another ambitious project. The project is to create a solar airplane, with the potential to make a non-stop 36 hour flight. The prototype plane is being called the Solar Impulse.
The Solar Impulse will be unveiled later this month on June 26th near Zurich, Switzerland. The plane has a 207 foot wingspan, which is comparative to commercial airplanes. The wings hold solar cells, specifically 11,628 solar cells.
The plane is a single-pilot plane and weighs 3,527 pounds, or the equivalent of a car. The plane has four 100 kilogram lithium batteries, which are used to power the propellers. Currently, the plane would not be able to reach 28,000 feet, but that is the goal for those behind the Solar Impulse. At that altitude there would be constant sun and no pressurized cabin necessary.
The initial test flight of the solar plane is expected later this year. In order to ensure a successful takeoff and flight, the batteries will be charged the day before the flight. No external power is expected to be necessary for any Solar Impulse flight.
The minds behind the project hope that by 2010 the plane will be able to reach the altitude of 28,000 feet. They are also hopeful that the plane will in fact be the first solar plane to fly continuously for 36 hours without external energy use.