Tarmak007 -- A bold blog on Indian defence: Sunthing Special! Indian scientists hail maiden flight of Solar Impulse

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sunthing Special! Indian scientists hail maiden flight of Solar Impulse

Solar Impulse – the solar-powered aircraft -- during its maiden flight at
Payerne military airfield in western Switzerland on April 7. Indian scientists
have hailed this historic flight as a stepping stone to future.
(Photos sourced by tarmak007 with written permission from Solar Impulse.)
A plane powered by Sun! Well, that’s the hot news hitting the plane fields now. Solar Impulse, a prototype of an airplane designed to fly around the world using only solar power, made its first flight at a military airfield at Payerne in western Switzerland on April 7.
Powered by 12,000 solar cells, this mean machine flew for 87 minutes to an altitude of nearly 4,000 feet. The makers are hoping to script a round-the-world solar song, sans fuel, by 2012.
Famed adventurer and Solar Impulse programme founder Bertrand Piccard termed the inaugural flight a crucial step towards fulfilling his goal of circumnavigating the globe in such an unusual aircraft. “Eighty-seven minutes of intense emotion after seven years of research, testing and perseverance. Never has an airplane as large and light ever flown before,” Piccard said.
This author, who accessed official information and photographs on the first flight through a written permission from the Press Department of Solar Impulse for Bangalore Mirror and tarmak007, was told that the aircraft, with a wingspan of a jumbo jet and weighing same as an average car, demonstrated not only its flying capabilities, but the ability to stay afloat at altitudes for basic flight testing.
“The first flight was for me a very intense moment,” test pilot Markus Scherdel, said soon after the historic attempt. During the flight, Solar Impulse lifted off at just under 30 mph and a relatively short take-off run. After more flight testing using solar power, the team would undertake night-testing later this year. The project cost is estimated at £61million.
Scherdel said the first flight was a familiarization flight for the entire team. “The execution of these various maneuvers (turns, simulating the approach phase) was designed to get a feel for the aircraft and verify it’s controllable,” Scherdel said. Despite the plane’s immense size and light weight, the team found the plane met their expectations.
The aircraft, known by its identifier HB-SIA, lifted off at just under 30 mph and a relatively short takeoff run. The four 10-horsepower electric motors are expected to deliver enough power for a cruise speed of around 40 to 45 mph. No, Solar Impulse won’t set any speed records.
After more flight testing with the sun powering HB-SIA, the Solar Impulse team hopes to perform night testing later this year. During those flights, the team will examine the viability of the schedule they plan to use for the around-the-world flight. The plan is to climb to higher altitudes during the day, and trade that altitude for airspeed, supplemented with battery power, to continue flying during the night. They expect to fly 36-hour shifts.
The around-the-world flight is scheduled to take place in 2012 with an updated version of HB-SIA. The flight will take place in several stages with pilots alternating regularly and a team on the ground keeping a careful eye on weather for the delicate aircraft.
Indian scientists hail the flight:
Scientists and engineers in Bangalore were over the moon on the possibilities the sun-dreams offered by Solar Impulse’s maiden flight. Dr Kota Harinarayana, father of India’s LCA-Tejas program said that the big challenge would be now to see if the solar energy can power huge aircraft in future.
“It’s good news and you don’t have to depend on fossil energy now. I do think that Solar Impulse is a pointer towards the future. We need to see better way of storing energy now. If we can improve the coating of an aircraft wing, then we are game for some exciting times ahead. India has launched a solar mission and we are looking at many applications,” Dr Kota said.
Echoing his views were Mr P.S. Krishnan, Director of Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), a DRDO establishment in Bangalore. “We need to look at alternative energy and Solar Impulse might even impact future UAV projects. I feel one class of UAVs can fly on solar power for a particular type of requirement, making it very cost-effective,” Mr Krishnan, said.
Dr Krishnadas Nair, managing director of Kochi International Airport Ltd and former chairman of HAL said that Solar Impulse success will put pollution worries at bay. “The first flight of Solar Impulse is a great achievement. It’s a major leap into tomorrow. Now, we are talking about non-polluting flying platforms using unlimited source of energy. We are all excited,” he said.
Terming it as a victory for R&D world over, Mr Gopakumar Chandran, director of Tesscorn, a leading instrumentation and tech supplier for various Indian defence and aviation projects, said: “We are sure that nano-technology will now play a huge role as the platform needs to be lighter. It also opens up huge avenues for the private sector.”
So, every day will soon be sun day for aviators! Cheers, Solar Impulse!
(Abridged version of this report first appeared in Bangalore Mirror on April 10, 2010. You can email your comments to anantha.ak@gmail.com)

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