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Solar powered flights take to the skies  

  • 20th July 2010
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Recent weeks have seen the possibility of emission-free flight taking significant strides to becoming reality, with the successful completion of a series of tests by two separate projects. However, scientists warn that commercial flights powered only by solar energy are still only a distant dream.

In a test which received worldwide coverage, the Solar Impulse project took off from an airfield in Payerne in the west of Switzerland. The HB-SIA aircraft then proceeded to fly in limited circles over the Franco-Swiss border for a total of 26 hours non-stop, breaking the record for the longest manned solar-powered flight. The pilot, Andre Borschborg, landed, exhausted and cramped, in the aircraft which weighs no more than a family car but had a cockpit the size of a bathtub.

The importance of the flight was that it proved a machine which relies on sunlight for power is able to store enough energy and has the aerodynamic efficiency to enable it to survive through the hours of darkness. This was achieved by gaining as much height as possible during daylight hours and then reducing power and allowing the huge 208ft wingspan to glide the aircraft through the night.

In a further development this week, a separate project has proved the theory that ‘eternal aircraft’ are a real possibility in the future. The UK-built Zephyr plane has smashed the record for the longest flight by an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), having remained airborne for more than seven days non-stop.

After launching from a US Army base in Arizona on Friday 9th July, the Zephyr is planned to remain in the air for yet another week before landing again. Its non-stop flight means that it has smashed the previous record several times over, but the scientific importance of showing that perpetual flight is possible is a major success for the UK-based project.

While scientists say that the possibility of emission-free commercial flight is still only a distant aspiration, the challenge is to manage the growing concern and awareness of climate change and the effects of greenhouse gases. Emerald Knight’s platinum-standard carbon credits allow investors the advantage of a fixed return over a defined period of time, while also helping to mitigate climate change. For more information on carbon credits, click here.

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