Solar flight earns its wings

This week’s Futurescope literally takes off from the Dübendorf Airfield in Switzerland where the first solar powered aircraft designed to fly night and day without fuel achieved its first ‘flea hop’.

The aircraft, dubbed Solar Impulse HB-SIA and piloted by Markus Scherdel, is 21.85m long and combines a lightweight 1,600kg structure with a 63.4m wingspan.

Designed to show what can be achieved using renewable energy, Solar Impulse managed to fly 350m at an altitude of 1m.

‘This is the culmination of six years of intense work by a very experienced team of professionals! This first “flea hop” successfully completes the first phase of Solar Impulse, confirming our technical choices. We are now ready to start the next phase – the actual flight tests’, commented Andre Borschberg, co-founder and CEO of Solar Impulse.

According to Solar Impulse’s developers, from early 2010 onwards, the aircraft will be making its first solar test flights, increasing flight duration until it makes its first night flight using solar energy.

Closer to home, a research collaboration between Portsmouth University and Flight Data Services has developed technology that offers another possible glimpse of aviation’s future.

The team, which has just received the award for Best Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) in the South East from the Technology Strategy Board, developed a computer program that uses artificial intelligence to analyse data recorded in an aircraft’s black box.

The program highlights tiny anomalies in the recorded data after every flight that would not usually be identified. It flags up abnormalities that fall outside the airline’s standard safety parameters, which it can investigate and take remedial action if necessary before safety is compromised.

The team will now be entered for a national award.

Jason Ford

News Editor