The Solar Impulse is the world’s first airplane to fly both day and night without fuel. There’s a lot of engineering behind this incredible feat – the plane’s wingspan is the size of an Airbus A340 (208 feet), yet it weighs less than a small car (3,527 pounds). Pilot André Borschberg said that the ratio of weight to wingspan is about equivalent to that of a hang glider.
The plane’s ultralight carbon fiber skeleton is held aloft by two wings clad with 12,000 solar panels strung into groups of 300 cells. These photovoltaics capture the sun’s energy throughout the day and use it to drive the plane’s four 10-horsepower engines. Excess energy is stored in 4 lithium polymer batteries that provide backup power for night flights. The plane’s average speed clocks in at 43 miles per hour, and it runs on about as much power as a tiny motor scooter.
Photos by Mike Chino for Inhabitat