US official: Solar plane to help ground energy use

Posted on June 18, 2013
Andre Borschberg, one of two pilots of the Solar Impulse plane is interviewed by a reporter on a ladder as he sits inside the cockpit of the solar powered plane during a media availability at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Washington Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Va., Monday, June 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Andre Borschberg, one of two pilots of the Solar Impulse plane is interviewed by a reporter on a ladder as he sits inside the cockpit of the solar powered plane during a media availability at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Washington Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Va., Monday, June 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The plane parked outside the airport looks more like a giant exotic insect or maybe an outsized toy.

When it’s in flight, there’s no roar of engines. It’s strangely quiet. And as it crisscrosses the U.S., the spindly plane doesn’t use a drop of fuel. Day, and even night, it flies on the power of the sun.

It’s that fact that has the U.S. energy secretary, and the plane’s two pilots and fans around the world, so excited.

The one-man craft called Solar Impulse has been flying cross-country in short hops as part of a 13-year, privately funded European project that is expected to cost $150 million.

Ernest Moniz, who heads the U.S. Department of Energy, praised the effort at a news conference Monday in Washington, where the plane landed early Sunday morning. Moniz said it highlighted a cleaner energy future for the nation.

“It’s also a poetic project,” said Bertrand Piccard, one of the pilots. “It’s about flying with the sun. It’s about flying with no fuel.”

It’s not that the experimental plane is going to change the way the rest of us fly, Moniz said. But it may change the way we drive and the buildings we live in sooner than we think.

The lightweight technology will pay off on the ground far more readily than in the air. This project should lead to cleaner appliances, greener cars and more energy-efficient building, said Solar Impulse CEO Andre Borschberg, who also is one of the pilots.

In an in-flight interview Friday, Borschberg said this experiment isn’t about aviation being cleaner. Airplanes only produce 3 percent of the world’s heat-trapping gases, he said.

Read more at: Phys.org