Remember Solar Impulse 2? Walking around the world would be faster

Remember all the hype last year?

The journey around the world started in March 2015 and was supposed to be completed in August 2015.

solar impulse 2 planned track

solar impulse 2 planned track

Leaving from Abu Dhabi they reached Hawaii in mid-July. But their batteries overheated and they are now stuck there till April 2016.  The flight is more hype than substance though there is some clever engineering and pilot endurance involved. It is supposed to be a flight which uses no fuel though reports that the batteries (when working) were recharged at every stop using grid power persist. What is not appreciated is the enormous support entourage that travels with Solar Impulse 2. Tony Thomas has an article about the “stranded monster” in The Spectator, and he points out:

To keep this gossamer confection airborne, an Ilyushin 76 strategic airlifter flies ahead with a blow-up hangar and all the high-tech servicing gear. Aviation buffs call the airlifter a ‘bad-ass’, not just because of its ugly nose and four droopy jets, but because its takeoffs are real Russian screamers. Once aloft, it burns eight tons of CO2-spewing avgas per hour.

This behemoth is accompanied by a   twin-turboprop ATR72 which can carry a support crew of up to 60, apart from the dozens left at Monaco mission control. The ATR burns a more modest tonne of fuel per 90 minutes.

Not quite ‘without using a drop of fuel’. It is “green delusionism” as Tony Thomas names it.

What is also worth noting is

This futuristic plane cruises at about the top speed of a postie’s bike, but can sometimes accelerate away to 90km/h.

Charitably assuming the plane does make it round the world in 18 months, that compares with other round-the-worlders such as:

  •  The Graf Zeppelin in 21 days in 1929.
  • Wiley Post in his Winnie Mae, in nine days in 1933
  • The Rutan Voyager, non-stop non-refuelled in nine days in 1986
  • Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones by balloon in 20 days in 1999.
  • Solo yachter Francis Joyon, in 58 days in 2008, using that other clean fuel, wind.

Someone could walk the plane’s route (somehow) in two years, not much longer than the flight time.

The flight and the engineering involved for Solar Impulse 2 are not unimpressive. But there is not very much which demonstrates anything which is new about solar energy. The entire enterprise is really about battery technology rather than solar energy. And what it does show is that battery technology has still quite some way to go.

I do dislike the ridiculous hype and the manner in which the “politically correct” and the fame-seekers jump on board.


 

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2 Responses to “Remember Solar Impulse 2? Walking around the world would be faster”

  1. Roger Says:

    My grandsons speargun rubber powered home made go-kart will go 200meters in approximately 2-1/2 minutes then rewind, that`s on flat ground,, so grid powered battery chargers for a “SOLAR” free to fly aircraft is a crock! let alone the gas guzzling overpaid aerial support crew.
    At least waste the $$ on something useful.

  2. Alan Says:

    “…burns eight tons of CO2-spewing avgas…”
    Nope. The Il 76 is powered by turbine engines (so is the ATR, it’s turbines are geared to propellers).
    Avgas is AViation GASolene, commonly known as petrol. Of course since it is for aeroplanes it costs much more and has nasty tetra-ethyl lead added, by law. TEL is not needed by most aeroplane piston engines and only causes problems.
    Feed a turbine engine on avgas and those on board may need a change of underwear.
    The “journalist” means Jet A1, Avtur or similar. Like parrafin. For heavens’ sake! Do they confuse petrol and diesel fuel as well?
    Still, the basic point remains: it’s a lot of fuel to burn for what is only a publicity stunt.

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