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PHOTO CAPTION: Bertrand Piccard during 72-hr flight simulation.

Solar Impulse II Electric Airplane Nearing Completion

Giant solar airplane that will attempt to fly around the world in solar energy alone is nearly completion with scheduled unveiling in early April.

Published: 12-Jan-2014

Last summer, Solar Impulse flew an entirely solar-powered aircraft across the U.S. Now the Swiss team is preparing to fly a larger and more capable aircraft around the world in 2015. The challenge goes well beyond the design and construction of a pioneering aircraft that pushes the limits of electric propulsion and lightweight materials.

The team is also entering new terrain in the human factors involved in coping with five-day-long flights. Moreover, Solar Impulse is establishing smart logistics, including unique weather forecasts, on the ground.

The aircraft, to be registered as HB-SIB, is being assembled in a hangar at Dubendorf air base, near Zurich. Construction of the 236-ft.-span wing is well underway, with the ribs and leading edge already fitted to the massive spar. Each of its carbon-fiber plies weighs just 25 grams per square meter (0.08 oz. per sq. ft.), the typical minimum to date being 90 grams per square meter. The upper surface is being covered with high-performance photovoltaic cells—their efficiency is close to 22%, while they are only 135 microns thick. The forward fuselage appears to be close to completion, too, as the cockpit is fitted with some flight controls, instrument panels and wiring.

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