Perhaps propelled by the recent dawn of solar powered airplanes, this stunning solar powered blimp is poised to take flight by harnessing sunlight for fuel. Dubbed Nephelios, the solar-powered helium blimp was designed and built by high school engineering students in France. The history making blimp will begin test flights in the next 2 weeks, and by summer’s end the designers hope to fly Nephelios across the English Channel, “just to show that it’s possible.” Nephelios will be the first manned solar airship in existence, and its inaugural flight will prove that CO2-free air travel is now a reality.
Part of the Sol’R Project, Nephelios consists of a lightweight aluminum frame with an outer wrap of nylon and polyethylene, which is filled with helium (He, atomic #2, and a noble gas, just in case you forgot). Stretched out on top of the blimp are flexible solar panels that collect energy from the sun and convert it to power a small motor, which turns two large red propellers. The solar panels are capable of generating 2.4 kW of power and provide enough energy to propel the 18 foot in diameter blimp at 25 mph.
In June, Nephelios debuted at the French Air Show in Le Bourget, where it was well received and commended for resurrecting the airship. As previously mentioned, within the next two weeks, the student group will be testing the blimp for the first time, and by the end of the summer the students hope to fly it across the English Channel at the Strait of Dover, which is the shortest span of ocean between the two continents. They expect the flight to take a little less than an hour. When they succeed, this will be the first flight of a solar powered airship, and we eagerly await the landing of Nephelios in the UK.