Flying on Impulse

“Solar Impulse”  is the name of the all-electric aircraft which is intended to circle the world using solar power. It made its first maiden flight this week over Switzerland.

With the wingspan of a Boeing 747 and the weight of a car, never before has an airplane as large and light as the Solar Impulse flown before. It lifted off at a speed no faster than 45 kmh (45 mph) and, once airborne, completed a series of turns by gently tilting its wings that measure 63 meters (208 feet) from tip to tip.For the test flight Scherdel was forced to rug up with special underwear, windproof overall and heated gloves and shoes since the cockpit had no shell around it. When asked how the plane behaved in flight Scherdel said, “So far it was very well-tempered. But I have to say that today we were flying very slow – at one point the ground speed had dropped to 12 knots per hour”.

At 12 knots it will take about 75 days. Glad I won’t be the pilot in the open air cockpit. What a treat if it encounters any weather which I suspect will ground the plane. While it’s an engineering marvel, it’s a vastly underpowered engineering marvel. Power is one thing that’s mighty handy when you run into an aviation problem like wind shear or less than perfect landings (not that I’d know anything about that). If there’s turbulence you will get pushed around pretty hard in a kite.

It would be impressive to use the “Impulse”  for a fly-in pancake breakfast. Tie down space might be tight but you wouldn’t need to fuel it up for the return trip.


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