See the big, shiny covering on top of the wings of this airplane? Those are solar panels and yes, this is a solar powered plane. If the inventors got it right, this plane will be able to fly around the world using nothing more than solar energy it collects during its travels.
The Solar Impulse 2, has a wingspan close to that of a huge 747 airplane yet, it weighs just about as much as a car (5,000 lbs.). It has a comfortable pilot seat which doubles as a toilet and folds down flat into a bed (so you can poop lying down?). And in case you’re wondering, yes, the plane also carries a parachute and life raft. The inventors say they did not want to waste time teaching the pilots how to swim.
The plane’s engines run off of solar power during the day. What energy it doesn’t use during the day, it stores in batteries for use at night or on cloudy days. Its solar-powered engines, which output about 15 horsepower over the course of a single day, are 97 percent efficient meaning very little solar energy is wasted.
The ride around the world will be carefully planned of course. During the day, when the plane will be collecting and using solar energy, the plane will run its engines at full speed and climb higher and higher into the sky. The pilots hope to reach an altitude of 23,000 feet before night comes. Once the sun sets, the plane will begin using energy from its batteries to power the engines. During the nighttime hours, the plane will glide and descend, very slowly, towards the ground which of course, requires less battery-zapping power.
Will Solar Impulse 2 be able to fly completely around the world using nothing more than the energy it grabs from the sun? Next year, pilots will give it a shot. If they fail, they say the engines will be replaced with lights giving us the world’s largest solar-powered nightlight.