Beginning in May, Piccard and a partner will take turns flying a single-seat, solar-powered airplane from San Francisco to New York—a prelude to an around-the-world flight planned for 2015. Named HB-SIA (for Solar Impulse Alpha), Piccard's plane defies conventional aviation wisdom. When he first told others about his dream, "almost everybody thought I was completely crazy," he says. Although pioneers like Paul MacCready had been building manned solar-powered aircraft since the 1970s, none were capable of flying after the sun had set, let alone across the Atlantic and Pacific for days at a time.
The obstacle is weight. To fly through the night, a plane must draw upon power from batteries charged during the day. But batteries hold far less energy per pound than a tank of jet fuel, so a plane must carry more weight in batteries to travel an equivalent distance. A heavier plane needs more energy to fly, which in turn requires even more battery power. Add a cockpit and pilot and the craft could be too heavy to even take off. That's why solar-powered aircraft research has typically focused on unmanned vehicles, such as NASA's flying-wing Helios.
The Piccards. Now there's a PopSci dynasty. I am curious though; because this isn't at all like the ballooning achievements, because that was actual high technology in that day. This is not. Difficult feat-yes, high tech-no. We won't see common personal aircraft of this size or anything close. Too fragile. Full hangar expense to park indoors in winter. Nor is solar as robust as need be for general aviation. Can't really power out of an emergency. I imagine this is more aimed at the sailplane crowd. Civil Air Patrol does use them for flight training and firewatch and the like.
Where is the bathroom!
Ok. Now try that with a B747. Then I'll applaude.