Time for Good Stuff

Post from Harry Hutchinson:

Harry Hutchinson

Harry Hutchinson

I got to meet two men who have a bold scheme that is full of entertaining fun and of serious practicality at the same time.

Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, the president and CEO respectively of Solar Impulse SA, were in New York the other day to publicize their latest plan—to fly their solar-powered airplane on a trip across the United States. (I wrote about the plane for this blog last July.)

They are building another solar-powered aircraft back home in Switzerland, and they intend to fly that one around the world in 2015.

Piccard has made unusual trips before. He and Brian Jones were first to circumnavigate the globe non-stop in a balloon more than a dozen years ago. Now he and Borschberg plan to share the piloting across the U.S. and later all the way around the world.

When I first heard of their circumnavigating intentions a few years ago, I had thought they were talking about a non-stop solar-powered flight. But no, apparently that kind of thing was just for the balloon ride. As Piccard explained it, many people on the ground were probably disappointed that they never got a chance to see the record-breaking balloon.

The Solar Impulse plane will make frequent stops, at least one on each continent it crosses, Piccard said.

The phrase “around the world in 20 days” came up at one point in their presentation during a reception at the residence of the Swiss consul-general.

The aircraft is very lightweight and uses little energy to fly. Piccard talks about “zero fuel,” and sustainability, and will point out that nothing quite like this has existed before. He says, too, that many of the design ideas for efficiency and economy could be applied in homes and vehicles today.

When it comes to flying something so light, there are considerations about winds and weather. Piccard makes another point: You can do a lot if you’re not in a hurry.

The cruising speed for the plane is about 70 kilometers an hour, so speed records are out of the question anyway.

If you are taking your time, and burning no fuel, you can afford to fly south to find better conditions to fly east. Piccard did something like that on a recent flight from Rabat, Morocco, to Madrid, Spain.

The plane was to land in Madrid around midnight so it wouldn’t interfere with airport traffic. Had he flown directly from one city to the other, he says, he would have arrived too early. So to kill time he headed west over Iberia toward Portugal. For a time, the speed of the headwind was greater than that of the plane, so he flew backwards across Spain toward Madrid.

Yes, you can do cool stuff if you don’t have to hurry.

1 Response to “Time for Good Stuff”

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The Editor

John G. Falcioni is Editor-in-Chief of Mechanical Engineering magazine, the flagship publication of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

December 2012

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