Do solar electric vehicles have a future…in the sky? Some innovative aero-engineers seem to think so, and they aim to prove the viability of their concept by flying across the U.S. from New York to California using nothing but the sun for power. The Switzerland-based Solar Impulse team is aiming for make a sun-powered flight across the continental U.S. sometime in the next year.
Having already completed an inter-continental flight from Spain to Morocco earlier in the year, the Solar Impulse team is now setting their eyes on the birthplace of flight; America. Their lightweight solar airplane has a 200-foot wingspan and is powered by four 10-horsepower electric motors that give it a cruising speed of just 60 to 70 mph.
Doesn’t sound like much. But given that the Solar Impulse plane is powered by electricity pulled from the sun, I think Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, leaders of this project, deserve a fair amount of credit. Their ambitions to fly all the way around the world may have to wait a bit longer. But a transcontinental flight across the U.S. would drum up a lot of publicity and excitement for the world-hopping HB-SIA solar plane, which will feature an even bigger wingspan and a pressurized cockpit.
But will solar-powered flight ever be more than just a functional experiment?