Solar Impulse 2 has made history after becoming the first solar-powered aeroplane to complete a round-the-world flight. The flight lasted more than 23 days and although the plane itself could fly almost perpetually, the flight was split into 16 legs, to allow it to be shared by two pilots. Even despite this, the pilots spent up to 5 days in the un-pressurised cabin, with the single seat doubling up as a toilet, taking only short naps.
The plane has a wingspan wider than a Boeing 747 and has more than 17,000 solar cells on its wings, meaning that it needs to use no fossil fuel to fly. The solar panels charge the planes battery during daylight, and the pilots climbed to 29,000 feet during the day, while dropping down to 5,000 feet at night to conserve energy. The plane flies on average around 30mph, but can go faster when the sun is bright.
Pilot and designer Bertrand Piccard said the aim of the flight was not to develop solar planes for widespread use, but to demonstrate the capabilities of renewable energy and he now plans to use the demonstration as leverage to create a world council for clean technologies.
Engineering students should investigate the mechanics of the solar plane, especially in comparison to a normal aeroplane such as a Boeing 747. Applicants for Physics and Material Sciences should think more about the functions and use of different types of renewable energy and how it may be developed for future use.