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Thursday, July 2, 2015

UPDATED: Solar-powered Aircraft Says 3x Is The Charm

Originally published on July 1, 2015.

Okay - it's not really a Japanese story, but I do like my science and I do like my aviation stories… but the solar-powered aircraft, Solar Impulse 2, has resumed its journey on its round-the-world flight taking of from Nagoya, Japan on June 28, 2015, heading to Hawaii.

Piloted by Bertrand Piccard and AndrĂ© Borschberg, the Solar Impulse 2 has been stuck in Nagoya since June 1, after bad weather forced it down for an unscheduled stop.

Solar power… I'm guessing it needs sunlight to help power the craft… I would imagine that if you can get above the clouds, however, there's a lot of sun…

Anyhow… the weather really sucked for the crew of the Solar Impulse 2, as even a restart of the leg to Hawaii on June 23 had to be canceled owing to bad weather.

Thanks to the upcoming raining season, the project coordinators needed to move sooner rather than later if they were going to complete this journey or be forced to scrap it for another year…

So… moving the Solar Impulse 2 from its hangar in Nagoya, on June 28, 2015, with a break in the weather, the crew lifted off and resumed its journey.

The epic flight around the world began in March 9 of this year.

Here's the flight plan (I apologize in advance for not knowing how to do charts on BLOGGER):

Departure     Origin             Destination     Flight Time    Distance
March 9/15    Abu Dhabi       Muscat,                13h: 1m     441km (274 miles)
3:12AM         UAE                Oman

March 10        Muscat            Ahmeddabad,      15h: 20m   1,485km (923 miles)   
2:35AM                                  India

March 18       Ahmeddabad   Varanasi,              13h: 15m    1,215km (755 miles)
1:48AM                                India

March 18    Varanasi             Mandalay,             13h: 29m    1,398km (867 miles)
11:52PM                               Mynanmar

March 29    Mandalay           Chonquing,             20h: 29m    1,459km (907 miles)
9:06PM                                 China

April 20    Chonquing             Nanjing,                17h: 22m    1,344km (835 miles)
10:06PM                               China

May 30    Nanjing                  Nagoya,                44h: 10m    2,852km (1,772 miles)
6:39PM                                 Japan

June 28    Nagoya                   Hawaii                  120hrs        7,900km (4,909 miles)
6:03PM                                   USA                   (planned)      (planned)

9              Hawaii                   Phoenix                  100hrs       4,707 km (2,925 miles)
                                              USA                     (planned)      (planned)

10            Phoenix                  TBD                        30hrs       2,030km (1,261 miles)
                                             mid-USA               (planned)    (planned)

11            TBD                     New York                 20hrs       1,436km (892 miles)
                                              USA                     (planned)    (planned)      

12           New York             TBD                         120 hrs     5,739km (3,566 miles)
                                            S. Europe or           (planned)    (planned)

13          TBD                      Abu Dhabi                  120 hrs    5,845km (3,632 miles)
                                            UAE                       (planned)    (planned)       

As you can see, the Japan to Hawaii leg is the longest part of the trip - so far - but the plan, hopefully, is to complete the entire round trip back to Abu Dhabi, UAE by sometime in August of 2015.

Originally, Japan wasn't even part of the journey! This was supposed to have 12 legs - not (unlucky) 13!
The flight plan originally called for a trip from Nanjing, China direct to Hawaii: 144 hrs and 9,132km ()… but the prospect of the weather turning foul was too great a risk for the aircraft - hence Nagoya.
Traveling from Nagoya to Hawaii, the trip is expected to take five days - hardly the speed of light (or sound, even), but note that it is also traveling at night for five evenings.

That's awesome! This is 120 hours just on solar power… and solar power only.

The Solar Impulse 2 dimensions:
  • Speed: 50 to 100 km/h (31 to 62 mph) - I would imagine that depends on wind… but too much could be troublesome;
  • Pilots: 1… the pilots switch off at each destination… but do NOT fly together aboard the plane;
  • Length: 22.4 meters (73.5 feet);
  • Height: 6.37 meters (20.9 feet);
  • Wingspan: 72-meters (236-feet) - wider than a Boeing 747-8I;
  • Weight: 2,300 kilograms (5,070 pounds);
  • Loaded Weight: 2,300 kilograms (5,100 pounds);
  • Propeller Diameter: 4 meters (13.1 feet);
  • Take-off Speed: 36 kph ();
  • Maximum Speed: 140 kph (87 mph);
  • Cruise Speed: 90 kph; but 60 kph at night to save power;
  • Ceiling: 8,500 meters (27,900 feet) - maximum allowed of 12,000 meters (39,000 feet);
  • Motors: Electric, 17,248 solar cells + four 41 kWh lithium-ion batteries powering fur electric motors with 17.4 HP each;
  • Battery Weight:  633 kilograms (1,395 pounds).
The plane is constructed with carbon fiber - tough but lightweight - a single-ply technology that somehow makes it three times lighter than paper.

The solar cells cover the top of the wings, fuselage and tail. Each cell is 135 microns thin and built into the wing (so it shouldn't peel away) and protected by an overcoat of fluorine copolymer plastic film.

When the plane is in the sky flying, the planes batteries get charged up enough to keep it flying during the night. 

Unlike our unlucky rower HERE who was forced to give up her quest quite early in, here's hoping the Solar Impulse 2 completes its journey around the world without further mishap or inclement weather.

To see a  live feed of the Solar Impulse 2 in flight, see their YouTube Channel below:

UPDATED - July 2: Already more than 75% of the way to the next port in Hawaii, Solar Impulse 2 has three world records under its belt:

  1. longest distance traveled for solar aviation; 
  2. longest duration in teh sky for solar aviation; 
  3. longest solo flight ever (solar or otherwise)
Andrew Joseph

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