Beyond Petroleum: The Future of Flying
It looks like a fragile matchstick model glued together in somebody's basement, except that it is large enough to fill an airline hangar. And it flies. Barely.
On its first test flight here last month, the Solar Impulse HB-SIA rose less than a metre off the ground and travelled just over the length of three football fields. Scoff if you must, but that “flea-hop,” as its designers call it, might represent the launch of a whole new world of aviation: the truly eco-friendly airplane.
“I don't foresee a solar-powered A380 or 787 flying any time soon,” says Paul Steele, director of aviation environment with the International Air Transport Association, whose members include the world's major airlines. But Steele points to similarities with the Wright brothers' flight in 1903, which lasted only 12 seconds. “After that hop in Kitty Hawk, would anyone have thought that 40 years later they would be flying jets across the Atlantic with 100-plus people on board?” he asks.
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Solar flight is gaining credibility as Eric Raymond crosses the Alps in Sunseeker II, the precursor to even more ambitious sun-powered manned aircraft.
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