If you are among those who believe that the environmental movement needs more upbeat and inspiring stories, and less gloom and doom, you will want to hear about Bertrand Piccard, Andre Borschberg and their solar-powered airplane, Solar Impulse.
Solar Impulse is an engineering marvel. Its has the wingspan of an Airbus A340 — it’s 208 feet across — yet weighs only about 3,500 pounds, about the same as mid-sized family car. Powered only by the light of the sun, which is captured in nearly 12,000 solar cells (built by US manufacturer SunPower) arrayed on the wings, it can reach an altitude of more than 27,000 feet and stay aloft for more than 24 hours, day and night. In May, Piccard and Borschberg, the Swiss adventurers who founded and built Solar Impulse will fly the plane from California to Virginia.
This is very cool. I’m not a tech geek, but I was intrigued enough to take the opportunity to meet Andre Borschberg when he visited Washington early this week. Piccard, who is the better known of the duo, comes from a family of explorers; his grandfather August was the first person to pilot a balloon into the stratosphere, and see the curvature of the earth with his own eyes. He’s a psychiatrist by profession. Borschberg, by contrast, is a 60-year-old MIT-trained engineer and entrepreneur, who led the team of engineers, physicists, software designers and who have spent nearly a decade (and about $120 million) designing and building several versions of the aircraft. A round-the-world trip is planned for 2015. [click to continue…]