Good news: Solar powered flight

Written By: - Date published: 1:24 pm, July 11th, 2010 - 14 comments
Categories: International, science, transport - Tags: ,

A while back I suggested that I might do the occasional Sunday post on good news, a change from the usual diet of politics, policy, and depressing news. So here’s some good news – the success of an amazing solar powered aircraft:

Solar plane lands after completing 24-hour flight

An experimental solar-powered plane completed its first 24-hour test flight successfully Thursday, proving that the aircraft can collect enough energy from the sun during the day to stay aloft all night.

The test brings the Swiss-led project one step closer to its goal of circling the globe using only energy from the sun.

Pilot Andre Borschberg eased the Solar Impulse out of the clear blue morning sky onto the runway at Payerne airfield about 30 miles (50 kilometers) southwest of the Swiss capital Bern at exactly 9 a.m. (0700 GMT; 3 a.m. EDT). Helpers rushed to stabilize the pioneering plane as it touched down, ensuring that its massive 207-foot (63-meter) wingspan didn’t scrape the ground and topple the craft. “We achieved more than we wanted. Everybody is extremely happy,” Borschberg told reporters after landing. …

The team says it has now demonstrated that the single-seat plane can theoretically stay in the air indefinitely, recharging its depleted batteries using 12,000 solar cells and nothing but the rays of the sun during the day. But while the team says this proves that emissions-free air travel is possible, it doesn’t see solar technology replacing conventional jet propulsion any time soon. Instead, the project’s overarching purpose is to test and promote new energy-efficient technologies.

Project co-founder Bertrand Piccard, himself a record-breaking balloonist, said many people had been skeptical that renewable energy could ever be used to take a man into the air and keep him there. “There is a before and after in terms of what people have to believe and understand about renewable energies,” Piccard said, adding that the flight was proof new technologies can help break society’s dependence on fossil fuels.

Fantastic. See the Solar Impulse website for more.

14 comments on “Good news: Solar powered flight”

  1. RedLogix 1

    And it would seem that even the NY Times has almost managed an apology.

  2. Todd 2

    Looks like a glider to me?.

  3. Cnr Joe 3

    And how much fossil economy does it take to generate a powered flight via sunbeams?
    We’re in an endgame here, but it is truly remarkable stuff.
    As a youth I recall the beautiful pedal powered Gossamer Albatross – the flight over the channel – awesome and yet never pursued.

    • Bored 3.1

      If you want to get really cynical you can describe this as battery powered flight….the embedded energy in the solar panels manufacture will most likely never collect an equivalent amount of energy from the sun to put out in the form of electricity during the solar panels lifetime. The whole thing looks great but in reality its the goood old law of thermodynamics kicking in again to spoil the party for all those techno cure addicts.

  4. Lanthanide 4

    Interesting, but no where near practical as a replacement for existing aircraft for many many reasons.

    If anything, this mostly has implications for autonomous military drones, and *possibly* scientific research.

  5. Bill 5

    Just another make believe ‘techno-fix’ for a problem that needs ‘techno-fixes’ like a hole in the head.

    Q. Why is it necessary to fly around the world or even from country to country?

    A. Business.

    Q. What is it that is encouraging behaviours and processes that are contributing to disastrously negative consequences for us, humanity?

    A. Business.

    Q. Why is it that touting a possible way around a barrier to ‘business as usual’ market imperatives is to seen as ‘good news’?

    A. ?

    • r0b 5.1

      You’re a glass half empty kinda guy aren’t you Bill.

      Why is it necessary to fly around the world or even from country to country

      I don’t think it’s necessary to fly anywhere for business these days. People still do it out of force of habit and lack of imagination, but telepresence will take over.

      Why is it that touting a possible way around a barrier to ‘business as usual’ market imperatives is to seen as ‘good news’

      From the article: “the project’s overarching purpose is to test and promote new energy-efficient technologies” and “the flight was proof new technologies can help break society’s dependence on fossil fuels”. Sounds like good news to me.

      • Bill 5.1.1

        Nope. Not a glass half empty ‘kinda guy’ r0b. That would be the prejudice of your perception.

        Meantime, while it seems that we agree flight is unnecessary, business begs to differ. How many seats up and down NZ next week will be occupied by people ‘doing business’; going to meetings, attending seminars or interviews or merely doing their business rounds?

        And we already know about solar energy. Using it for flight is not proof that solar energy can break our dependency on fossil fuels, is it?

        Fact is, we can break our dependency on fossil fuels ‘this morning’, right now, dead easy.

        Just got to break our bond with business.

        It’s business, not us, that is utterly dependent upon fossil fuels. But does flying a solar powered project bring us any closer to dumping our adherence to the cult of business? Does it inform our dependency on the business cult? Has the solar plane got much to do with anything beyond its own cleverness?

        • loota

          Well, anyone who wants an income come Monday morning is going to be disappointed if fossil fuels suddenly become unavailable. OK, business is utterly dependent on fossil fuels, but a heck of a lot of us are in debt and utterly dependent on business (our own or our employer’s) for incomes and also the taxes it generates to keep the machinery of Government turning.

          • Bill

            “…but a heck of a lot of us are in debt (renege on it?) and utterly dependent on business(our own or our employer’s) for incomes (stop organising and measuring life through monetary transactions or monetary accumulation) and also the taxes it generates to keep the machinery of Government turning.(government exists to serve and protect the market (business) and so shackles society with monetary norms, ie taxes etc. Dump it along with the market it serves

            Which is all going to be extremely painful. Might even lead to your death. But the alternative, of hanging on in there desperately hoping and praying for something or other to come along will most assuredly lead to many, many deaths and possibly the extinction of humanity. ( Potentially no crops or infrastructure or society and so on)

            Our situation has a parallel in a certain hunting scenario. Apparently, to capture monkeys, a coconut has a hole cut in it and food is placed inside. The monkey slips it’s hand into the coconut but cannot extract it’s clenched fist when it grabs the goodies. And the hunters come along. And the monkey hollers and jabbers and strains, but just can’t let go of those goodies. Bye-bye monkey.

            So what’s the monkey thinking? ‘Without this stuff in my hand I’ll go hungry or even starve?’ Or, ‘I don’t have to think this one through and act ’cause something or other will come along and see this work out right?’ Or maybe more simply and stupidly, ‘But we’ve always consumed these goodies!’

            You see my point? I’m not trying to be blasé or a smart arse. We are in a really fucked up situation. Our hand is clenched tight around the stuff inside that coconut and the clubs (the likes of climate collapse, peak oil etc) are swinging. Time to dump those ‘oh so important couldn’t possibly live without them’ goodies and get into a different situation…a different way of doing things…different measures,different goals and aspirations, etc.

            Either way we say ‘Bye-bye’ I guess. We just get to chose from which vantage point.

            • Bored

              Good work Bill, the techno fix thing is a sure fire way to starve to death. Theres one hell of a lot of thngs we take for granted that will be turned on their head which is why I am so hot on making sure that we dont reach that point as serfs to a new feudal class of rentier / owners of the things that will be of importance to a low energy economy. Have you read the Archdruids latest?


              • Bill

                Hmm. See, insulating your home and generating power and so on is all well and good. But far, far better if instead of a single home trying to gear itself towards energy conservation and so on, that cul de sacs, streets and avenues did it…

                So sod the one house trying to generate the power to run its lights and washing machines and whatever else, ’cause that’s still (say) 20 houses being heated all of the time.
                And 20 washing machines needing attention, repair and replacement.
                And 20+ cars running every day.
                And 20+ TVs.
                And 20+ fridges and ovens etc.
                And 20+ ‘every piece’ of energy guzzling clap trap…which is all adding up to a lot of energy needing to be generated and a lot of energy being invested in constructing whatever apparatus it is that is going to be used to generate that energy.

                Why not have three or four kitchens instead of 20? And why not have those kitchens kitted and ‘greened’ to the max?

                And three or four laundries in place of 20?

                And far fewer than 20+ cars?

                And why not have half a dozen internal social spaces….gamesroom, kid’s spaces, TV room, library or whatever, rather than 20+ little separate fortress/entertainment centres that we call ‘living rooms’?

                And then since the community rather than the individual is being catered for, why bother pursuing an individual income with its attendant jealousies and fears of the Jones’s? Hell, we can work with the Jones’s ( we’re all Jones’s in someone’s eyes) and wind up better off materially and better off psychologically than we are at present.

                Then we can look at those 20 little gardens and take down some fences and hedges and have veritable acres to play with as we convert the ‘cut and paste’ back yards of suburbia into useful and varied spaces….veg garden, playground, relaxed spaces…whatever we want.

                And the plumber who lives in No 7 can do the plumbing conversions for those laundries and share her skills with some of those who are keen and willing.

                And the gardeners can get together and grow the shit that will sustain 20+ households. And parents can organise childcare among one another and with those willing and able to look after kids and spend the freed up time contributing in other ways and developing existing skills or learning new ones.

                And the kids get a far more varied and vital upbringing.

                And the dependence of us all on the monetised economy; on market relations diminishes.

                And so the heinous price we are extracting from the planet and our own possible futures diminishes too.

                And the heat comes off from under the pressure cooker where this thing called ‘modernity’ dictates that we should live and compete and be fearful and hunger for success; that is driving us to fuck ourselves, this planet and a thousand generations of humanity insofar as we may well be robbing them of birth as we desperately and unhappily scramble to pay off our mortgage or insurance company or credit card debt.

                We could do a wee bit of thinking deciding which debt is important…the bank debt or the debt to future generations.

                Or then again.

                The monkey traversed five flooded rivers and climbed a dozen scraggly peaks to get to this coconut. The contents are his by rights! Why should he let go! He earned this! M-I-N-E!

                • Bored

                  Bill, as I walked down to work this morning there was a doco on my radio (on an alternative channel) outlining the deforms of the Douglas era. And I was musing to myself about what you would do if you had to stop (i.e made redundant, gone bust etc)….then I was thinking about green dollars or parallel economies etc. The thought occurs that on all the above you are right, and that we can migrate away from monolithic dependency to interdependency. Perhaps we are on the way already, your model and others already exist. There is hope.

          • uke

            “Well, anyone who wants an income come Monday morning is going to be disappointed if fossil fuels suddenly become unavailable.”

            This is why it’s good to begin to think about the transition to the oncoming reality. Here’s one place to start:


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