sunlover

Posted on April 6, 2009
Filed Under travel | Leave a Comment

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After the apocalypse, who ever owns one of these suckers will be king of the skies! They’ll be able to open up their own travel company, or bomb the shit out of whoever is left, but only with  waterbombs…

From Wired

Eric Raymond is flying across Europe in an aircraft powered by the sun’s rays to prove that “solar airplane” is not an oxymoron — but a viable means of air travel.

Raymond’s eight-country tour of the continent in Sunseeker II starts Monday would be the first trans-European flight in a manned solar plane. The environmentally friendly aircraft developed by Solar Flight will highlight the potential for electric aircraft to shape air travel, and may even point to design efficiencies that could benefit fossil-fueled planes.

“If we can inspire people to re-examine the way they think about transportation and travel — to help them envision transportation modes that are not only cleaner and less destructive, but that provide a pleasant experience — then we will feel we’ve succeeded,” Eric Lentz-Gauthier, a member of the Swiss team, told Wired.com.

But, science and progress and greeness and all that aside, what’s it like up there, soaring silently?

Incredible, said Lentz-Gauthier. Absolutely incredible.

“After a quiet takeoff and climb to a few thousand feet, you level off and throttle back,” he said. “Then, with the sun at your back, you glance at the volt meter and see that it’s ticking up instead of down. That’s when it really dawns on you that it is a new game you’re playing with this airplane. It changes everything.”

No one’s saying you’ll take a seat on a 747 sporting batteries and photovoltaic cells anytime soon. Battery weight and range remain the limiting factors for all but small aircraft. Still, electric aircraft are coming along. Start-ups like Pipistrel and Electric Aircraft build e-planes that work, and Boeing is experimenting with hydrogen fuel-cell aircraft. A venture called Solar Impulse hopes to test a sun-powered plane later this year.

The guys at Solar Flight say aircraft like theirs also provide insight into maximizing efficiency and minimizing weight that could make fossil fuel-burning planes a little cleaner and greener. Perhaps more than that, they get people thinking about new ways of propulsion.

Sunseeker II weighs a whisper-light 292 pounds (506 pounds fully loaded) — about the same as an average motorcycle weighs. It’s 23 feet long and has a wing span of 17 feet. Four lithium polymer batteries stashed in the wings provide power to an 8 horsepower motor for takeoff and climbing. Once the plane hits cruising altitude of around 3,000 feet, Sunseeker II uses solar power to maintain altitude. Open ‘er up and the batteries drain in just 15 minutes, but Raymond says they’ll recharge in 30 to 45 minutes.

The plane is capable of 40 mph under solar power and twice that with the batteries, speeds that are fast enough to make things fun, but slow enough to fly with the canopy open.

“You really feel like you are out there when there is no plastic to look through and you can feel the wind going by,” Raymond said.

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