Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, founders of Solar Impulse, have set out to achieve an impossible goal. They are currently on the first round-the-world flight in an airplane powered only by sunlight.
They are on a mission to change how the world uses energy. And they are inspired by Orville and Wilbur Wright in that mission.
Their sunlight-powered plane, Solar Impulse 2, made a stop in Dayton May 22nd on flight leg 12 of that round-the-world flight. “Landing in Dayton, of course, is wonderful,” exclaimed Piccard. “The Solar Brothers are going to meet the Wright Brothers.”
After the more than 17-hour flight from Tulsa, Oklahoma, the Solar Impulse team was welcomed at Dayton International Airport by Stephen and Amanda Wright—great-grandniece and great-grandnephew of Wilbur and Orville Wright. The two pilots scored some great “Property of The Wright Brothers” sweatshirts. They spent the weekend touring Dayton’s special exhibits dedicated to the Wright brothers’ legacy and the birthplace of aviation.
The aircraft, Solar Impulse 2, is a technological marvel. A flying laboratory; its wingspan, 77 meters, is wider than a Boeing 747-8. That wingspan is over a hundred feet longer than Orville Wright’s first flight in 1903.
Despite its massive wingspan, it weighs less than your average mini-van. Because of the light weight, and lack of wheels on the wings to steady the aircraft on take-off and landing, a ground crew with two people on bicycles catch the plane’s wings when it lands, and steady the craft on take-off.
There are 17,000 photo-voltaic cells on the wings, which generate power for the four electric 17 hp motors that turn 12-foot-long propellers. The power cells also generate power to be stored in batteries, so the Solar Impulse 2 can fly at night.
The Solar Impulse 2 pilots engaged in aviation technology talk with Stephen Wright, who still has plenty of the Wright innovation and engineering logic gene. As advanced as the aircraft is, Piccard remarked that the Solar Impulse 2 still uses pitch, roll, and yaw to control its flight. The same principles are used 110 years after the Wright brothers patented that concept.
The Solar Impulse 12-foot-long propellers are 91% efficient. The pilots were amazed that the original designs and construction of Wright brothers’ 1903 hand-carved propellers were 82% efficient. After 113 years, supersonic flight, trips to the moon, and the best in engineering materials and design, mankind designs a propeller that’s only 9% more efficient than the design and engineering from two men in a bike shop near West Third and Williams in Dayton, Ohio.