Solar Impulse: the Solar Future of Flying

Solar Impulse is the world’s first airplane that can fly day and night only on solar power. It’s long wings are covered with solar panels that generate electricity to power four propellers. It does not require even a drop of fuel!

The two Swiss entrepreneurs Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg initiated the daring project. The goal of Solar Impulse is to pioneer clean energy options for flying and to help make our lifestyles more sustainable.

Adventure as a family tradition

Bertrand Piccard comes from a family of adventurers. His grandfather, Auguste Piccard, wanted to test the theory of relativity and took a balloon to a height of 16 km into the stratosphere – in 1931! His father, Jacques Piccard, was a famous undersea explorer. That’s a lot of family pressure on young Bertrand. So he decided to prove himself and fly a balloon around the world in 19 days, without consuming any fuel, by just using the jet streams to move.

Adventure is addictive, it seems. And Mr. Piccard is on a mission: to show the world that we don’t need fossil fuels. Today, one of the main emitters of carbon is the booming, kerosene fuelled air flight industry. If we want to fly, there seem to be no alternative to fossil fuels. Well – that is exactly what Mr. Piccard is trying to disprove: with a solar airplane that requires absolutely ZERO fossil fuel to go all the way around the world in 5 days at speeds of between 36 and 140 km/h.  “Solar Impulse”.


Solar Impulse: a great feat of engineering

It took 12 years to go from feasibility study to concept, design and finally construction of the plane. The team consists of 50 engineers and technicians. There are 80 technology partners and more than 100 advisers and suppliers. There was one prototype (Solar Impulse 1) and there is one final airplane (Solar Impulse 2).

The plane has more the 17,000 solar cells on a wing surface of 270 m2, collecting 340 kWh of energy per day. The wingspan is 72 meters – wider than that of a 747 Jumbo jet! Lithium polymer batteries, whose energy density is optimized at 260 Wh/kg, store the energy. They are located in the four engine nacelles and their weight of 633 kg makes up about 25% of the total weight of the plane. The frame is made of the robust, light-weight materials, carbon fiber and honeycomb sandwich.

Here is a talk Piccard gave at the TED conference about his plans.

And you can find much more about his great adventure on the website of  Solar Impulse.


The Greatest Adventure Ever? Around the World in a Solar Plane

The Technology Behind the Solar Plane Solar Impulse-2

Facebook’s Solar Drones to Provide Universal High Speed Internet Access

Tobias Engelmeier
Tobias Engelmeier
Tobias Engelmeier is an entrepreneur and very passionate about the climate, sustainability, solar energy and India. He is a German Indophile. You can find out more about Tobias on and on LinkedIn. He is also active on Twitter (@TEngelmeier).
Recommended Posts

Leave a Comment

Start typing and press Enter to search