Scientists hope to create a solar-powered airplane that can fly all the way around the world, and a prototype of this plane just completed its very first test flight.
The Solar Impulse has a massive 12,000 solar cells built into its wings, and on a sunny day in Switzerland, it managed to reach an altitude of around 4,000 feet and stay airborne for an hour and a half.
"This first mission was the most risky phase of the entire project," said Bertrand Piccard, the man who founded the program (does that make him Captain Piccard?)
There are lots of reasons why this is an important project. Obviously, the savings in fuel cost would be astronomical if a full-size jet could make trips solely on power from the sun. Also, because there aren't tons of gallons of jet fuel weighing it down, the plane is like a feather compared to the behemoths that dominate the skies today. That makes it safer and easier to service.
"Never has an airplane as large and light ever flown before," said Piccard.
Obviously, the problem is that such an aircraft would need sunlight to operate. And as anyone who has traveled knows...that's unrealistic. Additionally, the plane at this point can only travel up to 50 miles per hour. That's compared to around 600 miles per hour at which passenger jets currently travel.
So don't expect this to be dominating Delta Airlines' fleet anytime soon, but private aviation hobbyists may be clamoring to get their hands on one if it reaches the mass production market.
Solar Impulse completes night flight
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