Solar Impulse’s Social Innovation Project to Change the Landscape of Aviation

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The Solar Impulse project is currently writing the history pages of tomorrow with its social innovation commitment to fly day and night without fuel, powered only by solar energy. It has taken seven years of research, simulation, construction and tests to achieve the first solar twenty-four hour flight in history, one that demonstrates progress is possible by using clean energy. In July 2010, the HB-SIA became the first solar-powered airplane in history capable of flying through a complete daylight cycle, establishing three world records. This social innovation aeroplane has the wingspan of an Airbus A340: 63.40m; the weight of a family car, 1600 kg; and finally, the power of a scooter: four 10 HP electric engines.

The Solar Impulse’s HB-SIA prototype presents social innovation construction features at its best, along with an aerodynamic quality never seen till now. The elements of this aircraft—including the carbon fibre structure, the propulsion chain and flight instrumentation—have all been designed to save energy as well as to resist the hostile conditions facing the aircraft and pilots at high altitudes.

The two men behind the Solar Impulse initiative are both pioneers, innovators and of course pilots! They are the driving force. Let me introduce you to Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg. Piccard is a psychiatrist and aeronaut who made the first non-stop round-the-world balloon flight. He is the initiator and chairman. Borschberg is an engineer, fighter, professional airplane and helicopter pilot. He is the CEO of this organisation. Together their social innovation vision and entrepreneurial spirit are an ideal combination. They work with a large, talented team comprised of mechanical and aeronautical engineers; physicists; specialists in structures, aerodynamics, design and calculating tools; leading specialists in composite materials; and pilots with a passion for renewable energy. They have all joined forces to finalise the solar airplane's structure and turn a dream into reality.

Solar Impulse's ambition is for the world of exploration and innovation to contribute to the cause of renewable energies, to demonstrate the importance of clean technologies for sustainable development and to save natural resources and reduce our dependency on fossil energy. Plus, crucially to place dreams and emotions back at the heart of scientific adventure. French President Nicolas Sarkozy during a speech in June this year said, “Solar Impulse is a reminder that we must think of more energy efficient aircraft solutions right away. Shaping the future of aviation also means creating sustainable aircraft. Solar Impulse clearly shows us that the social innovation of clean technology is the future and the design of its aircraft is a symbol of tomorrow.

Photo Credit: Solar Impulse

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