Unlimited solar radiation strikes planes flying above the clouds, during the day. Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg built Solar Impulse to show we can produce and store enough electricity during daytime flights to fly through the night. In July 2010 they did it. Two years later they achieved intercontinental flight and, on every night of an eight-day return journey from Switzerland to Morocco, Solar Impulse landed with full batteries. During 2015 they went one big step further and set off around the world. The trip is scheduled to last two years, taking 14 legs and flying for 500 hours. This audacious aircraft might be as crucial as the Wright Brothers’ Flyer in proving (solar-) powered flight is possible.
Solar Impulse uses batteries to store electricity, and Airbus Group believes advances in batteries and materials could lift a fully electric aircraft into the air by 2017. There is nothing to say that all future aircraft will be solar-powered; indeed, powered flight could be achieved through any number of means. Multinational projects such as Hakari and Hexafly International are examining the potential of using technologies such as hydrogen-powered rockets and ramjets to achieve hypersonic flight. 40 As they expand their know-how, they will build aircraft that use much less oil.
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