Solar Impulse Tests Mobile Hangar

Storm damage at St. Louis/Lambert Airport results in need for mobile solution.

Solar Impulse Hangar
Solar Impulse's inflatable hangar.Solar Impulse

As the all-electric, solar-powered Solar Impulse is making its way across America, the Midwest has been hit hard with a barrage of violent weather. St. Louis/Lambert Airport in St. Louis, Missouri, is one of the stops on the approximate 2,850 nm journey and suffered extensive damage in a severe storm last week. The storm ripped part of the roof off the hangar where the Solar Impulse was to be parked. Several other buildings and hangars at the airport were also damaged.

Rather than rescheduling the visit or diverting the trip around St. Louis, the Swiss team had a backup plan — an inflatable hangar, which will house the airplane during its stay. “We brought the inflatable hangar to the USA for testing purposes and in fact it allowed the mission to stay on schedule,” said André Borschberg, co-founder, CEO and pilot of Solar Impulse. “This exercise is now a proof of concept: Rather than taking the airplane to a hangar, we have taken the hangar to the airplane.”

The hangar is, however, not something you can throw into your luggage compartment. The structure weighs 7,716 pounds and, once erected, is 289 feet long, 105 feet wide and as much as 36 feet tall in some areas. While the structure is designed to be waterproof, fireproof and withstand winds up to 62 mph, the material that covers it is translucent and allows the solar-powered batteries of the airplane to be recharged while the airplane is protected from the elements. The hangar was developed as the Solar Impulse team realized the need for a mobile solution for its planned 2015 around-the-world flight.

The Solar Impulse landed at St. Louis/Lambert early this morning after a 21-hour, 21-minute flight from Dallas/Fort Worth. The airplane is scheduled to depart for Washington, D.C., in mid-June. Its final leg to New York is planned in July.