If one day, you walk outside, see an unusual gigantic mass in the sky, and are overcome with a feeling that the world is about to end, it’s okay. Don’t be alarmed. Swiss engineers Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard have created the first solar powered plane. It seems as though we have a 21st century version of the Wright brothers on our hands, although without a sibling relationship this time. Embarking on a trip around the world in their solar powered plane, the two are furthering the boundaries of transportation technology.
The plane, named Solar Impulse 2, is covered by solar panels and equipped with batteries. Solar panels are comprised of photovoltaic cells. These cells combined together create the large solar panels, and enable the conversion of sunlight to electricity. When the sunlight hits the panels, the photons separate electrons from atoms, thus creating a flow of electricity. The plane will operate according to this phenomenon during the day, while batteries will sustain it through the night.
The plane’s light-weight structure is designed to increase the plane’s efficiency. Improved since the first Solar Impulse, the wingspan of Solar Impulse 2 is 236 feet, and weighs about the same as a car. Backing up, yes; there was a first Solar Impulse. However, this one only took flight from California to New York. Now, Borschberg and Piccard have implemented corrections and economical upgrades for Solar Impulse 2.
Ready or not, it’s already coming. The Solar Impulse 2 took flight out of Abu Dhabi, the capital of United Arab Emirates, on March 8th. Future stops will be India, Myanmar, China, United States, and either Europe or Africa as it returns. The co-founders and co-pilots say they are prepared and eager to take on this challenge, however, watching the journey on solid ground will satisfy most of us just fine.