Solar Impulse, the world’s first solar aircraft, is now on display at the Cité des Sciences in Paris, where it is making an extended stopover until March, 2017.
This prototype, fuelled solely by solar energy, and which required almost 10 years’ development work before taking to the air in 2010, today spreads its 63 meter wings in the Cité's Explora area. "The wingspan of a Boeing, the speed of a scooter and the weight of a car!" says Claude Michel, who heads of the Solvay Solar Impulse Partnership.
It takes thousands of photovoltaic cells (11,628 exactly!) to provide energy for the propulsion of such an aircraft. This explains why it must be as light as possible (it weighs 1600 kg). Each additional kg requires more photovoltaic cells, so more surface area, thereby lengthening the wings and weakening the plane!
The efficiency and light weight of the materials were therefore key factors guiding the construction of Solar Impulse. It is innovations from Solvay that enabled this challenge to be met: special polymers as solid as metal but much lighter, binders for the batteries in which the solar energy is stored, and many applications that optimize the aircraft's energy chain and reduce its overall weight.
With Solvay Impulse 2, the second generation prototype, now making the first round-the-world flight by a solar aircraft, Solvay wishes to share this symbol of technological challenge and scientific excellence with as many people as possible.
The Solar Impulse 1 display at the Cité des Sciences also includes a flight simulator, a multimedia installation featuring the technologies incorporated in the aircraft, footage of the test flights, and film of the plan's arrival at the Cité, knocked down but still large enough to require the dismantling of the entrance to the building!
This pioneering single-pilot aircraft, moving at an average speed of 70km/h, has demonstrated that we can move in the air, day and night without fossil fuel.
In this era of constant technological advances, who knows if this solution will not be the inspirer of the vehicles in daily use in generations to come?
Find out more on the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie site