Flying by the Power of the Sun

Posted by mcm0704 on December 3, 2012 |

Last night on Sixty Minutes, Bob Simon presented a fascinating story about a solar powered plane that can fly long distances, even at night, without using any fossil fuel. The plane is called Solar Impulse, and it is powered entirely by the sun. It is not the first solar airplane, but it is the first that can fly at night.

The plane was created by two men in Switzerland, Bertrand Piccard and his business partner, Andre Borschberg. Andre is a pilot and an engineer but never worked on building an airplane. Bertrand is a psychiatrist, and he didn’t even know how to pilot a plane until 6 years ago.

Photo Courtesy of http://inhabitat.com/tag/solar-impulse/

On the broadcast last night Bob Simon said, “This state-of-the-art plane sometimes looks like it had been put together by a 6-year-old with an erector set”

From a distance, it does look like a toy, and the cockpit is so small it is not something I would want to fly in for hours, but that is what the partners plan to do next spring. They are going to fly across the United States, with future plans to fly around the world.  

What I found most interesting about the story, besides the most unusual airplane, is the potential for this type of solar energy to replace dependence on fossil fuels. Let’s face it, we cannot just continue to destroy the earth to find more gas and oil and coal.

The solar cells that comprise the wings of the aircraft capture the energy of the sun and transform it into electricity. That electricity goes simultaneously to the engines and to the batteries. At night, the plane relies on the batteries to stay airborne until the next sunrise when the cells can capture the sun again.

During the interview Bertrand Piccard said, “If we can fly in a solar airplane like Solar Impulse with no fuel, just on solar power, then all the technologies here can, of course, also be used in the daily life for cars, for houses, for heating systems, cooling systems and so on.”

Imagine the significant positive impact that would have on the environment. I mentioned that to my husband as we were watching the program and he laughed. “Imagine the oil and gas companies giving up their choke hold on energy,” he said.

Of course, that got my dander up. It is past time for those companies to cease their quest for the last dollar they can squeeze out of our dying earth and look ahead to preserving something for future generations.

Bob Simon ended the piece by saying,  “Bertrand knows it’s unlikely a solar plane will fly commercially in his lifetime, but feels he has done something more than invent something new. He has combined technology with poetry and proven what our ancestors knew thousands of years ago — that the ultimate power is the sun.”

What do you think? Is it possible to have total dependence on solar power?

 DON’T forget to come back on Wednesday to meet Nancy Madore.

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