The zero fuel Solar Impulse arrives in the European capital as it undertakes its first international flight
The plane approaches Brussels Airport (photo: Solar Impulse)
Mon 16 May 2011 – The fuel and emissions-free Solar Impulse completed its first international flight last Friday on a 13-hour journey from its Swiss base across France, Luxembourg and Belgium to Brussels Airport. The 630 kilometre voyage was covered at a sedate average speed of 50km/hour (31mph). In order to minimise induced drag and offer the largest possible surface for the solar cells, the plane has a wingspan equivalent to that of an Airbus A340, and the super-light aircraft weighs little more than a family car. The four engines produce an average 8HP – roughly the amount of power available to the Wright Brothers on their maiden flight back in 1903 – so the plane has little more than symbolic value in terms of reducing future commercial aviation emissions. However, the project’s leaders say it has proven an immense potential in the development and production of renewable energies.
“It’s unbelievably exciting to land here in Brussels, at the heart of Europe. And to fly without fuel, noise or pollution, making practically no negative impact, is a great source of satisfaction,” announced André Borschberg, CEO and co-founder of the Solar Impulse project, on his arrival.
The project has received support from the European Commission and the plane will be the focus of a week of events from 23 to 29 May at the airport, where it will be on display in a hangar provided by the Brussels Airport Company, the Host Partner of European Solar Flights.
“This airplane, the first to function without fossil fuel and without emitting CO2, symbolises magnificently the great efforts the aeronautical industry is making to develop new technologies for energy saving and increased use of renewable energies,” said the airport company’s CEO, Arnaud Feist. “The European airport sector is also very active in developing its activities in a responsible and durable manner. Given our ambition to continue reducing our CO2 emissions, we attach particular importance to solar energy generation projects.”
Solar Impulse will be shown to representatives of the European institutions based in Brussels, as well as to the public, students and the media over the course of the week. As its arrival coincides with Green Week, the largest annual conference on European environmental policy, several European Commissioners have scheduled visits. A lecture by project founders André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard will be given to local students on the project and the messages it is intended to convey.
Assuming favourable weather conditions prevail, the prototype – called HB-SIA – will fly on to Le Bourget Airport in France, where it is likely to become a star attraction at the Paris Air Show to be held there from 20 to 26 June.
The next major objective of the project is a 36-hour voyage involving its first night flight, before construction takes place of a second aircraft, HB-SIB, which will attempt to fly around the world. The night flight is the most critical stage, says the project team, as the major constraint is storing the energy generated by the 11,628 monocrystalline silicon solar cells during the day in the lithium polymer batteries.