In the century since the Wright brothers made their giant leap for aviation, flying has become an unremarkable mode of transport, and planes have turned into airborne living rooms. The standard of a good ride today is a personal television screen and in-flight yoga.

Somehow, in the quest for on-board luxury, aircrafts have gotten far less attention than ground transport as culprits in deteriorating air quality and depleted oil sources, even though one pass of a Boeing 747 across the Atlantic uses more gas than 2,500 cars. The environmental impact of planes has been downplayed by our need to travel long distances and our preoccupation with safety.

This problem has not been lost on Bertrand Piccard of Switzerland, who is known for his round-the-world hot air balloon flight in 1999. With the support of the European Space Agency, Piccard is engineering the Solar Impulse, a solar-powered plane that he plans to fly non-stop around the world in 2010. The plane resembles a glider in its design, with wide wings and a slim body.

The plane weighs only about two tons, and will not be able to transport many passengers; but the mission of the project is less about mass transit than it is about demonstrating the potential of renewable energy and sustainable technologies.

The Solar Impulse will capture and store a minimum of eight hours of sunlight per day, which will provide enough power to keep it running through the night. During the day it will fly at approximately 10,000m and at night, will reduce its elevation to 3,000m. The round-the-world flight will be executed by three pilots in tandem.

If Piccard?s demonstration flight proves successful, we may witness standards of sustainability in aviation catching up to standards of comfort.


posted by Sarah Rich