The Solar Impulse in flight over Switzerland, 2011 (© Solar Implulse - Jean Revillard)
Two Swiss inventors have developed the first solar-powered plane capable of flying at night. The Solar Impulse has already flown multiple overnight flights, including one 72-hour intercontinental journey, and by 2015 they hope to fly around the world in 20 days and 20 nights. The plane’s carbon fiber frame is super lightweight, and 12,000 solar cells make up the surface of its extra-long wings. The engines use almost all of the solar energy captured, with excess energy stored in batteries. One hitch that makes it unlikely that the plane will be used for commercial flights anywhere in the near future: its optimal speed is only 30 mph.
The plane’s inventors, one a former psychiatrist and the other an engineer and pilot, hope their hard work and dedication will have lasting effects. Eventually, it’s possible that all planes will be powered by the sun. More immediately, the technology could be used for more practical daily uses, such as powering cars and homes, ultimately helping eliminate our reliance on fossil fuels.