Solar Impulse makes first flight

 - April 30, 2010, 6:53 AM

Solar Impulse’s first prototype made its first flight on April 7 in Payerne, Switzerland, paving the way for the first night flight with a solar-powered, manned aircraft this summer. Company CEO André Borschberg and founder Bertrand Piccard are then planning a round-the-world flight, with probably five stopovers, to demonstrate the potential of investing in renewable energies. After the flight, test pilot Markus Scherdel said HB-SIA felt “stable and controllable from the very beginning.”

During the one hour, 27 minute flight, the aircraft reached an altitude of 3,900 feet. Scherdel claimed that the landing–considered the most critical phase–was not difficult. “At that time, I had already learned a lot about the airplane and knew everything I needed about its behavior,” he said.

Photovoltaic cells cover the 208-foot wing and horizontal stabilizer, providing power for the airplane’s four 10-hp electric motors.

Solar Impulse is now focusing on the next two test flights, before the night flight. Construction of a larger aircraft, HB-SIB, will begin next year, allowing for tests in 2012 and flying around the world in 2013. The company has raised about 80 percent of the E70 million ($93 million) needed for the entire project, according to Borschberg.

The French association of aerospace journalists in January chose Solar Impulse for its Icarus 2010 award.