When Voyager circled the globe non-stop and unrefueled in 1986, it sounded for all the world like the kind of record that could never be bettered. We should all have known better than to think there’s any such thing in aviation. The next mountaintop to conquer: around the world without a drop of fuel.
Today the Solar Impulse HB-SIA took off from Spain for Morocco on the second leg of a series of flights attempting to prove that the technology exists to do an around the world flight using only solar power. The airplane will fly at a top altitude of 28,000 feet, which sounds distinctly jet-like, but at an airspeed of around 55 knots, which doesn’t. At the controls is Bertrand Piccard, a Swiss psychiatrist who was the first person to fly a balloon nonstop around the world. Solar Impulse HBIA will not be the airplane that will be flown around the world; a second version, the B-model, based on this one but with improvements from lessons learned on these proving flights, will attempt the deed, which is planned for 2014.
To see what the craft, which has a wingspan of an Airbus A340 and the weight of a Cessna 182, look like when it goes airborne, check out this video provided by Solar Impulse.