[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”B005ZSVZRY” locale=”us” height=”157″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41f6r2J2agL._SL160_.jpg” width=”160″] The first AA battery powered manned plane was successfully flown in 2006, and in 2009, the the first solar powered aircraft prototype was successfully test flown. Manned test flights have been conducted since, new prototypes have been developed, and currently, a project called Solar Impulse in Switzerland is in progress that specializes in designing solar planes. Starting with a continental flight from coast to coast of the US planned for 2013, the project is planned to see a world tour in stages of a solar powered aircraft by 2015, with each stage lasting 3-4 days to allow the change of pilots. The current prototype of the solar powered plane developed under the project banner has already been flown overnight in 2010.
Picture this; a plane that has no need for fuel and hence no need for fueling. It could charge its own batteries with solar energy to power itself in flight, and store the rest to remain airborne overnight in the absence of sunlight, or even just in bad weather. This would mean that it would never need to stop or land for refueling; it would only descend when the pilot needed to, assuming that the plane would even be piloted manually.
Now, take a solar powered plane and throw in auto-pilot and remote control technology that is used to control and fly Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or UAVs. Result? You get an aircraft that virtually never has to land, except if those on board are traveling to a new destination or need supplies.
[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”B00008VFAF” locale=”us” height=”91″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/31cpa3O4R8L._SL160_.jpg” width=”160″] At present though, the world does not have solar-powered planes that can carry commercial passengers. However, looking at the progress made over the past 6 years, I predict that the next 30 years will see the first in-service commercial aircraft that is fully solar powered. Scientifically, and in terms of engineering, it is highly possible, and in the next few decades, the world will likely see solar-powered aircraft in military service for defense purposes. Afterwards, it will turn to a demand and development race, and become available to the public.
Most of our fares we pay for air travel today cost what they cost because of the fuel. How much cheaper do you think things will get when you do not need liquid or gas fuel for travel? While it’s true that developing the aircraft that are solar powered will probably cost a lot more than the aircraft of today, it will pay off in the long run. For example, when you make an investment in a water efficient washing machine you pay more up front but save in the long run with smaller water bills. The same can be said of airlines investing in solar-powered planes that are initially costly to purchase, but cheaper and more efficient to operate because of no subsequent fuel costs and safety upgrades. No plane will crash due to fuel leakage or damage to fuel compartment, and flying will become much safer.
[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”B00AKUAWD0″ locale=”us” height=”120″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/31eS6kyWraL._SL160_.jpg” width=”160″] Solar-powered aircraft will also open the possibility of flying cities or homes. If you develop a large enough aircraft, it could have apartment-like cabins. It could include a docking facility on its fuselage for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to deliver daily groceries and water, and a restaurant size kitchen fully staffed to cook and serve food. Passengers could also order gadgets, clothes or basic necessities online and have them mailed by UAV, and the duration of their stay could be virtually limitless. Aircrafts today are getting larger and larger and the world has already seen its first floating estate in the form of a cruise ship, where the cabins serve as apartments. In a land-scarce future, for those who can afford it and appreciate the lifestyle, a permanently flying aircraft that serves as a permanent residence could become a reality. Perhaps we won’t see the technology emerge for several decades, but eventually some entrepreneur or corporation will see this as a profitable enough venture to explore and kick-start a development project for.
Solar flight is well ahead of our present time, but it is a technology that is being developed. The commercial value of solar powered planes is worth the venture, and is supported by science and engineering. I feel that though we may not see this technology for a long time, but it is immensely promising.
Image Source: Flickr
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