It is possible for a manned aircraft to fly great distances on solar power alone



Solar Impulse is the name of a project to build a solar-powered long-range glider. The driving force behind the project is the Swiss psychiatrist and aeronaut Bertrand Piccard. The project is currently in the design phase, with scientific studies of materials and design being done by the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL).


The current schedule of the project is to get sign-off on the design phase in late 2005. The maiden flight was planned for May 2008, but a lot has happened since then.



Professor Bertrand Piccard


Bertrand Piccard's - new transatlantic record flight

5 June 2012



The project has technical and financial backing from several established European firms, so the final aircraft will probably be a European craft, not a Swiss one. Dassault Aviation is responsible for aviation-related matters. Solvay, a company that specializes in plastics and polymers, is responsible for the development of materials. Altran Technology, a leading provider of consulting and engineering services, is responsible for engineering. Semper, an asset management company, is responsible for financing.


The project plan calls for a one-seated ultra-light aircraft, with solar panels built into the structure. It will weigh about 2 tons and fly at altitudes of 12,000 meters by day and 3,000 meters by night.


Favorable winds weren’t the only thing that helped Swiss psychiatrist Bertrand Piccard and co-pilot Brian Jones pull off the first nonstop round-the-world balloon flight in 1999. The trip also required burning nearly four tons of propane fuel, a fact that never sat well with the environmentally conscious adventurers.




Solar-Impulse concept

So now Piccard has dreamed up a greener—and far gutsier—aviation milestone to conquer: circling the globe in a solar-powered plane. “It would be the purest way to fly,” he says. Pure, yes; easy, no, notes engineer Paul MacCready of AeroVironment Inc., who has consulted Piccard on his new plan—and pinpointed plenty of hurdles. The farthest a pilot has ever flown a solar plane is 163 miles, a record set in 1981 when MacCready’s Solar Challenger crossed the English Channel.

Undeterred, Piccard tapped the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne last year to help him design his dream plane, dubbed Solar Impulse. The team hopes to complete a prototype in 2006 and conduct its first test flight the following year.

Because Solar Impulse could take weeks to circumnavigate the globe, the biggest engineering challenge will be harvesting enough sunlight to keep it aloft overnight. One possible solution, according to project scientist Yves Leterrier, would be to plaster the underside of the aircraft with solar cells to snag reflected sunshine: “Any photon that we can capture is a good photon,” he says.





Dr. Bertrand Piccard (born March 1, 1958) is a Swiss psychiatrist and balloonist.


He was born in Lausanne, Vaud canton. His grandfather Auguste Piccard and father, Jacques Piccard, were noted balloonists and inventors.



Solar Impulse model airplane at Show


Solar Impulse model



Growing up in a ballooning and undersea-exploring family, Bertrand was always fascinated with flight. As a child, he was taken to the launch of several space flights from Cape Canaveral. He became a hang-glider and developed an interest in ultra-light motorized flight, as well as the gas balloons his grandfather had set records in.


He is a lecturer and supervisor at the Swiss Society for Medical Hypnosis.


On March 1, 1999 Piccard and Brian Jones set off in the balloon Breitling Orbiter 3 from Château d'Oex in Switzerland on the non-stop balloon circumnavigation. They landed in Egypt after a 45,755 kilometre flight lasting 19 days, 21 hours and 47 minutes. In recognition of this accomplishment, he received awards including the Harmon Trophy, the FAI Gold Air Medal and the Charles Green Salver.


In 2004, he co-announced a project, in cooperation with the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), for a solar-powered, long-range, one-seated glider named Solar Impulse. The project is dubbed "a great human adventure". Piccard plans to begin construction in 2007, and conduct short test flights in 2008. He has financial and technical backing from several European firms, so it looks as if the Solar Impulse will be a European craft, not a Swiss one, despite scientific support from the EPFL. The plan is to circumnavigate the globe with several pilots in relay, flying above cloud cover during the day and at lower altitude at night sometime in 2009.


He is known for his flamboyant declarations, using expressions such as "the Invisible Hand" (la Main Invisible):

  • "I went in search of new ideas blowing in the wind, to try and live better on Earth in my roles as doctor and human being."

  • "Consciousness is perceiving one's soul."

  • "Welcome to those who believe in the power of dreams and who would like to join me in my exploration of life."


Solar Impulse poster EPFL


Poster advertising a Solar Impulse-related 

event at the EPFL (Lausanne)



The Piccard Family

  • Auguste Piccard (physicist, aeronaut, balloonist, hydronaut)

    • Jacques Piccard (hydronaut)

      • Bertrand Piccard (aeronaut, balloonist)

  • Jean-Felix Piccard (organic chemist, aeronaut, and balloonist)

    • Jeannette Piccard (wife of) (aeronaut and balloonist)

    • Don Piccard (balloonist)

  • In Star Trek, Jean-Luc Picard is arguably descended from Bertrand or another member of the current Piccard family.




Solar Impulse record 5 June 2012 - Youtube




External links







Wind Energy: New turbine tech
Exploration: Probing Lake Vostok
Robotics: How Dextre could fix Hubble
Natural Disasters : Tsunami risk revived




The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man. -- George Bernard Shaw




European Commission | Enterprise and Industry


European Commission star circle logo



This website is Copyright © 1999 & 2012.   The bird logos and name Solar Navigator are trademarks. All rights reserved.  All other trademarks are hereby acknowledged.       Max Energy Limited is an educational charity working toward world peace.