Solar Airplane Attemps to Make Historic 24-Hour Flight

Discover Magazine reports on a fascinating flight, going on right now in Europe. There’s been plenty of discussion about alternate fuel options for decades now, and in my steampunk research I’ve come across the history of steam-powered airplanes. But solar powered? Now there’s an idea.

The plane, called the HB-SIA, is a long, lean machine, covered in approximately 12,000 solar panels. The goal of this particular flight is to keep it in the air for 24 hours, even when the sun goes out. The plane will hopefully achieve a height of 27,900ft.

Their first few test flights had some technical difficulties, but the team, based out of Switzerland, is enthusiastic about this particular flight. The biggest challenge, according to a quote by BBC News, is storing enough energy by day to continue the flight without the sun.

Given how much solar power has impacted the car industry, it seems a no-brainer to apply the same technology to airplanes—which fly closer to the sun, and above the cloud line. Considering what gas guzzlers jet planes are, any advances in this direction will certainly benefit us in the long run. Granted, the current prototype isn’t exactly a luxury jet… but that’s not to say in ten years something considerably more viable will come along.

Good luck to the crew and everyone involved. If anyone is particularly inspired by the team behind the project–called Solar Impulse–you can even sponsor a solar cell on their site to help them along.

[Image: Solar Impulse]