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Solar power takes to the skies, seas and land

PES takes a look at three state-of the-art modes of transport which could help facilitate an energy-efficient future and help conserve the increasingly limited natural resources of the planet.

Some 110 years after the much-celebrated Wright Brothers designed and flew their first aircraft, the age of solar fight has finally arrived.

The ghosts of Wilbur and Orville could have looked on in sheer amazement as the Solar Impulse HB-SIA – the first aircraft designed to fly without fuel – left the ground for the first time at Dübendorf Airfield in Germany.

The final ground tests, in December 2009, had proved encouraging, showing excellent results for controllability, acceleration, braking paths and, engine power and the team behind the ambitious project gave the thumbs up to test pilot Markus Scherdel, to take the prototype up to take-off speed.

As the aircraft gathered speed, project promoters Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg watched on admiringly. After some 350 metres of flight at an altitude of one metre, the prototype landed on the centre of the runway as the team behind the project applauded enthusiastically.

Bertrand Piccard, initiator and President of Solar Impulse, said: “For over 10 years I have dreamt of a solar aircraft capable of flying day and night without fuel and promoting renewable energy.

“Today our plane took off and was airborne for the first time. This is an unbelievable and unforgettable moment.”

The tests are the initial steps in a lengthy process which, it is hoped, will culminate in a full circumnavigation of the globe by a solar-powered aircraft.

Bertrand Picard added: “I remain humble in the face of the difficult journey still to be accomplished – it’s a long way between these initial tests and a circumnavigation of the world.”

The German design team has already spent some six years on the project although, as Herr Piccard pointed out, there is a long way to go from this initial “flea hop”.


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