Aviation has come a long way since the Wright brothers took their first flight in the early 20thcentury. Airplane design was pretty basic back then and their glider-like plane could only carry a person or two. However, modern-day airplanes are gargantuan beasts, capable of carrying hundreds of people at super-fast speeds.
However, the present-day airline industry is also incredibly bad for the environment, accounting for roughly 3% of the global warming footprint. Considering the flourishing airline and tourism industry around the world, this number is projected to rise even higher. This is partially because people in rising economies like China and India are opting for airline travel to their vacation destinations, even if they are not too far from their home city. Thus, the carbon footprint of air travel is bound to grow to dangerous levels. Researchers and social activists in this domain keep warning us that we need to think about how we fly. Due to their efforts in creating awareness, even the multi-billion dollar airline industry is also feeling the pressure to reduce CO2emission in order to mitigate climate change.
Bowing down to this pressure, they have begun to take some remedial steps. For example, older planes reaching retirement are promptly replaced with ones that are more fuel efficient. Similarly, artificial intelligence-based algorithms are being used to ensure that flights are being scheduled with minimum/negligible vacant seats.
Even so, it that enough? What more can be done? Should airplanes be redesigned, or could air traffic operations become more efficient and streamlined in some way? One of the leading ideas is to seek renewable sources of energy to power an aircraft. And in a utopian sense, a solar aircraft sounds like the perfect solution. So how viable is this solar plane dream? Well, let’s find out!
Solar Impulse 1
André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard are two Swiss visionaries on a mission to bring a solar plane into reality. Solar Impulse was their first experimental solar-powered aircraft project intended for a long-range flight. They roped in the Swiss government and other corporations to finance their ambitious project. The Solar Impulse project kickstarted with the mission to complete the first circumnavigation flight around the globe in a solar-powered aircraft that solely uses clean-green solar energy as its fuel.
In 2010, an aircraft that goes by the same name – Solar Impulse – took to the sky for the first time. Although this wasn’t the first attempt to make a solar-powered plane, the project managed to achieve an unprecedented feat—a 26-hour flight solely using solar power. This included 9 hours of flying in the dark without any sunlight.