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Fuel-free plane to fly around the world

Imagine a plane that can fly without fuel, yet its energy reserves increase during the flight. Now imagine a plane that can fly around the world in one trip, through both day and night. Imagine this plane is the weight of a small van.

You're imagining the Solar Impulse 2, one of the greatest technical feats of aviation.


Solar Impulse 2 is powered by solar energy, which is captured in 17,248 monocrystalline silicon cells that are mounted on the wings, fuselage and horizontal tailplane. The aircraft has a 72-metre wingspan – wider than a 747 – yet its cabin is large enough to fit only one pilot.


The energy collected by the solar cells is stored in lithium polymer batteries, insulated by high-density foam and mounted in the four engine nacelles. All of this reaches a mass of 633kg, just over a quarter of the aircraft's total weight.


Its average power is 15hp, that of a small motorbike, yet it can fly at the same speed as a car (between 36 kmh and 140 kmh).


In order to save energy, the aircraft climbs to 8,500 metres during the day and descends to 1,500 metres at night.
That may all sound impressive, but the best is yet to come. The Solar Impulse 2 will take the first round-the-world solar flight next year.


While the aircraft, and its prototype the Solar Impulse, are not the first solar aircraft, they are certainly the most ambitious, as are their creators and pilots, Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg.


Switzerland-based Piccard and Borschberg will have to achieve almost superhuman feats, using self-hypnosis, meditation and pure willpower, to get them through the journey.


They must fly alone in an unheated and unpressurised cockpit, facing temperatures of between +40°C and -40°C. They will travel 35,000km, taking them 500 flight hours in several legs.


They must also master entirely new flight tactics and piloting skills in order to take the aircraft from the deserts of the Persian Gulf, across China, the US, the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and back round.


Worst of all though – worse than the cramped conditions and lack of sleep – has to be the multifunctional seat, which reclines to become a bed and adapts to become a toilet. Good luck to them!

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