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Thursday, August 21, 2014
- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Tuesday praised the work of Swiss engineers of a revolutionary solar powered plane. The aircraft recently completed a trans-American journey comprised of six legs taking roughly 20 hours each.
The second leg, from Phoenix to Dallas, set several solar aviation world records. On average, the plane cruises at around 43 mph, and can fly at night, powered by the energy it has accumulated during the day.
“Maybe a future Secretary-General, whoever they may be, will ride a solar powered plane one day,” Ban said at the U.N. headquarters in New York on Jul. 9. The U.N. chief expressed that he would continue to put pressure on U.N. member states for a legally binding climate change agreement by 2015.
This second prototype plane has been 14 years in the making. In 1999, medical doctor Bertrand Piccard completed an around the world flight in a balloon, but was concerned by the fact that the mission was dangerous in its dependence on large quantities of fuel.
He resolved to create a machine which would be free of emissions, and thus the solar airplane was born in Switzerland. Solar Impulse SA was founded in 2004 in partnership with the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, the European Space Agency and Dassault Aviation, and brought out its first solar aircraft prototype in 2007.
Its first flight, a self described “flea hop”, was a 350-metre take-off and immediate landing. Although a seemingly unpromising start, in the words of the Solar Impulse team: “Never before in the whole history of aviation has an aircraft so big, so light and consuming so little energy actually flown.”
Piccard is an ambitious character; when questioned about his inspiration for the project, he said, “The motivation is to fly forever, with no limit.” His co-founder André Borschberg spoke to IPS about the proposed circumnavigation of the globe in 2015:
“The challenge is quite immense, and we are certainly at the limit of technology. We hope with improving technology we can build a third airplane with two people on board, and to complete the trip without a stopover.”