UPDATE: Most challenging transpacific leg of Solar Impulse 2’s global circumnavigation begins Saturday, May 30, 2015, report via NBC News.
Solar Impulse 2 solar-powered airplane departed on Saturday, May 30, 2015 from Nanjing, China, embarking upon the most challenging journey of its circumnavigation across the globe that involves a six-day, nonstop 5,000-mile (8,172-kilometer) flight across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii.
Pilot Andre Borschberg, co-founder and CEO of the $150 million project, “will eat, sleep and do everything else that needs to be done in the single-seat cockpit during the flight. He’s been practicing yoga and meditation to deal with the journey’s psychological and physical challenges,” NBC News reports.
Just before takeoff, Borschberg said he had no doubts about taking on the flight. “I wouldn’t leave if I had doubts,” he told reporters.
“The cockpit seat is built to recline into a couch or convert into a toilet. An autopilot system can take control while Borschberg naps,” according to NBC News.
“Just in case something goes terribly wrong, Borschberg is equipped with a parachute, a survival raft stocked with extra supplies and an emergency beacon to alert rescuers in the Pacific.”
Bertrand Piccard, Solar Impulse’s chairman and co-founder, and Pilot Andre Borschberg have been flying Solar Impulse 2 relieving each other across various legs of the solar-powered aircraft’s circumnavigation around the world, since March 8 in Abu Dhabi. Solar Impulse 2 has landed in Oman, India and Myanmar. After which, the aircraft’s journey has continued into China, landing in Chongqing and Nanjing. After Hawaii, Solar Impulse 2 will continue its transpacific flight reaching the U.S. mainland, landing in Phoenix.
“Other stops on the 22,000-mile-long (35,000-kilometer) circuit include a spot to be determined in the U.S. Midwest, then New York, then someplace in southern Europe or northern Africa, and finally a return to Abu Dhabi,” NBC News reports.
Swiss-built solar-powered aircraft, known as Solar Impulse 2, departed Al Bateen Executive Airport in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, Monday morning, March 9, 2015, about 11:10 pm EST (7:10 am local time), according to the Associated Press.
Solar Impulse supporter, His Majesty Prince Albert of Monaco, visited the Monaco control center during Monday’s Solar Impulse 2 Abu Dhabi departure on a history-making global circumnavigation journey of the world’s largest and most novel solar-powered manned aircraft.
Piloted by Solar Impulse founder André Borschberg, the innovative solar-powered aircraft began its historical aviation journey, as the first aircraft to fly around the world completely powered by the sun without any use of conventional fuel sources.
Solar Impulse 2 began its first leg of its global circumnavigation journey, flying roughly 250 miles (or 400 kilometers) on March 9, 2015. The solar-powered manned aircraft arrived and departed its first destination — Muscat, Oman — after about 10 hours of flight, on March 10, 2015, after which the aircraft is continuing its flight en route to India, officials have confirmed.
Borschberg will trade-off piloting the solar-powered aircraft with Solar Impulse co-founder Bertrand Piccard during stop-overs on a global circumnavigation adventure that will take up to five months to complete sometime between late July and early August.
Swiss pilots, André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, say their aim is to highlight the promise of alternative fuels, solar-power energy utilization in aviation, including protracted lithium-ion polymer auxiliary battery power propulsion innovations, and replacing “old polluting conventional fuel technologies with clean and efficient alternative fuel source technologies.”
Some transpacific and transatlantic legs of the solar-power aircraft’s circumnavigation will require the Swiss pilots to fly solo for about five or six straight days.
Now departed from Oman, at this writing Solar Impulse 2 is now headed to India, where it will make two stops in the Asian country. Then, Solar Impulse 2 will fly over China and Myanmar before heading across the Pacific Ocean and stopping in Hawaii.
Subsequently, Solar Impulse 2 is expected to cross the Pacific flying into the United States, landing in Phoenix, Arizona, and then across the nation before landing at New York’s largest airport, John F. Kennedy International. The solar-powered aircraft’s journey across the Atlantic to the European continent will depend on the oceanic weather, and could include a stop in southern Europe or Morocco in North Africa before ending the aircraft’s global circumnavigation back in Abu Dhabi, according to company officials.
Each leg of the solar-powered aircraft’s flying adventure around the world is broadcast live on the Solar Impulse 2 website.
If successful, Solar Impulse 2 will become the first solar-powered aircraft to circumnavigate the globe. Swiss pilots and Solar Impulse co-founders André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard have said the global flight “will likely end in late July or early August.”
“We are very ambitious in our goal, but modest given the magnitude of the challenge,” Borschberg and Piccard said in a statement. “This is an attempt, and only time will tell if we can overcome the numerous weather, technical, human and administrative issues.”
This is a great day for aviation.” – Oliver McGee on CTV News, Canada’s 24/7 News Channel
Solar Impulse 2 is designed to fly day and night without using an ounce of conventional fuel used to propel modern aircraft. Alternatively, the plane is powered entirely by solar panels and on-board lithium-ion polymer batteries, which charge during the day to enable the ultra-lightweight aircraft to continue its journey throughout the night.
The solar-powered aircraft has a wingspan of 236 feet (72 meters), and its ultra-lightweight configuration weighs about 2.5 ton or 5,070 pounds (2,300 kilograms), approximately the weight of a car, company officials described to reporters in Abu Dhabi. The aircraft’s wing span and tail have 17,248 solar cells built-in that supply the aircraft with renewable energy and that power the plane’s on-board systems.The solar cells recharge four lithium-ion polymer batteries. The ultra-lightweight Solar Impulse 2, a larger version of a single-seat prototype that first flew five years ago, is made of highly durable carbon fiber.
An inaugural flight of Solar Impulse back in June 2014 flew for two hours and 17 minutes above western Switzerland, only a couple of months after it was fully manufactured.
Borschberg and Piccard completed back in 2013 an unprecedented coast-to-coast-flight across the United States, using a first-generation prototype of the Solar Impulse plane. That innovative groundbreaking flight took two months, and included five stops across the United States mainland between California and New York.
“Since that cross-country flight, the Solar Impulse team has made several upgrades to the aircraft to prepare for the current round-the-world journey,” according to the Associated Press.
“Engineers made Solar Impulse 2 more energy efficient by improving the quality of the aircraft’s batteries and using lighter materials to construct the plane. The aircraft’s cockpit was also upgraded to include more space and better ergonomic designs, which will help Borschberg and Piccard remain as comfortable as possible during long flights,” according to company officials.
What’s Possible in Solar-Powered Manned Aircraft and Unmanned Drone Technologies?
The round-the-world flight of Solar Impulse 2, first and foremost, is designed to demonstrate the possibilities of “green” technology and alternative sustainable energy.
Borschberg and Piccard said to reporters at Al Bateen Executive Airport in Abu Dhabi, “they want to push politicians, celebrities and private citizens to “confront the Conference on Climate Change of the United Nations, which will define the new Kyoto protocol in December 2015 in Paris.” All countries are called upon to present targets for a new global climate agreement that international governments plan to adopt at the Paris climate change United Nations forum.
The United Arab Emirates-based Masdar, the Abu Dhabi government’s clean-energy company, is a key sponsor of the flight. Additional sponsors include Omega, Google and Moet Hennessey, among others.
This is the information technology and solar-powered aviation breakthrough for lightweight flying vehicles of the sky in the millennium. Designed to extend the global reach of moving people, information and things, the departure of Solar Impulse 2 en route to its circumnavigation of the world without the use of conventional fuel means “a great day for aviation,” I’ve said on CTV News, Canada’s 24/7 news channel.
Between 2010 and 2014, some 439 unmanned aircraft vehicles or drones were imported by 35 countries around the world. Out of those 439, a mere 11 were armed. The 11 armed unmanned aircraft vehicles were exported by the U.S. and China – the U.S. supplied six MQ-9 Reapters to the United Kingdom for use in Afghanistan, while China exported the other five to Nigeria.
The United Kingdom accounted for the most drone imports at 33.9 percent between 2010 and 2014. England also took delivery of 55 drones from Israel. Since 1985, Israel has exported the majority of unmanned aircraft worldwide, some 60.7 percent of the world total, ahead of the United States who have 23.9 percent of the market. In terms of importers, India comes a distant second to England with 13.2 percent of imports between 2010 and 2014. Italy is third in taking delivery of 9.8 percent of the 439 unmanned drones transferred during the same time period.
Even internet titans, Google (and closely watching Facebook) have a piece of the solar-powered manned aircraft and solar-powered unmanned aircraft vehicle (drone) action, as they embarked upon a search for new internet users, even in the most remote corners of the earth.
The strategic intent here is for Google and Facebook to ‘capture value’ of solar-power aircraft technologies (including solar-powered drone satellite utilization). Here, the internet firms aim to utilize solar-power aircraft and drone technologies to transform and control the scale and scope of the global internet, as well as ‘Big Data’ communications to ‘The Cloud’.
Google especially in partnering with Solar Impulse 2 and in acquiring Titan is looking to expand within and across remote areas of our world through Google’s Project Loom.
Titan will be able to collect photos from around the planet from high up, which could help with Google Earth and Google Maps,” according to Business Insider.
It is envisioned by Google and Facebook that solar-powered manned aircraft, like Solar Impulse 2, and solar-powered unmanned aircraft vehicles – like drone communications satellites – could hold varied payloads designed to collect real-time, high-resolution images of the earth, to carry other environmental and atmospheric sensors, to employ international transportation safety surveillance and global security monitoring devices, and to support voice and data services, including man-made and natural disaster response and recovery.
It’s still early days, but atmospheric satellites could help bring internet access to millions of people, and help solve other problems, including disaster relief and environmental damage like deforestation,” a Google spokesperson said to the Wall Street Journal.
There’s a Fortune to be Gain Through the Stratosphere
Google’s exploitation of Solar Impulse 2 social-powered manned aircraft and Titan’s drones and Facebook’s employment of Ascenta drones could create proprietary networks offering web-based mobile and wireless bandwidth that are worth billions of dollars, as more of the world gets online and significantly monetize the fullest economic value of the internet. Google and Facebook are battling to be the primary online site of communications in emerging economies across vast remote areas, where the largest new market shares for these internet mega-giants reside.
Grand-challenge technological leaps in information sciences, wireless communications, and mobile micro-systems (and even longer-range stretch goals into advanced mobile, integrated nano-computing, nano-communication systems) is the only way Google and Facebook can tap into simultaneous fully-integrated markets globally. Exploration of stratospheric (high-attitude) solar-powered manned and unmanned aircraft vessels position Google and Facebook to potentially displace conventional mobile telephone, cable television, and internet services for homes and businesses. Here is where recent mergers, like Comcast-Time Warner, and AT&T reside with 50 years of exclusive rights on conventional earthbound access of laying more cable wires and erecting more cell towers.
Even Amazon is considering using solar-powered manned and unmanned aircraft vessels to provide global consumers with home delivery of purchased items through local distribution warehouse nodes, potentially displacing conventional package delivery services, like the United States Post Service (USPS), United Parcel Service (UPS), DHL (International Package Delivery Service), and Federal Express (FedEx).
How will commercial passenger and cargo aviation change?
Bridging information sciences with solar-powered manned aircraft and solar-powered unmanned drone technologies could also have profound implications on the four ‘Big Mega-Technology’ trends emerging from recent calls to improve international transportation safety and security in the wake of the one-year anniversary of the Missing MH370 Mystery, (including the MH17 aviation disaster on July 17, 2014, the AirAsia 8501 crash on December 28, 2014, and the TransAsia GE235 aviation safety breach on February 4, 2015 (and even in the wake of the maritime disaster response and recovery from the sinking of the South Korean ferry Sewol in the summer of 2014).
These four ‘Big Mega-Technology’ trends are:
- Cloud Streaming of limited ‘Black Box’ data, ‘the cloud’ being just another meaning for a secured internet;
- “Big Data” airline business operational intelligence and data-analysis;
- Advanced Wireless and Mobile Cockpit Information Management Systems, Mobile Air Traffic Control Systems (at least on some limited tasks and operations inside the airport control towers), and finally,
- Social Media-based crisis communications, family-care and mediation, crash investigations and recovery, and media relations management.
As I have stated in Malaysia 370 Lesson Learned: It’s Time to Secure ‘The Black-Box’ in ‘The Cloud’, “these four mega-technological trends embody a simultaneous nexus of egalitarianism (The Cloud), markets (Big Data), communications (Wireless Mobile), and technology (Social Media) applicable to next-generation aircraft, flight supervision, engine performance data-analysis, and air traffic control management systems.”
Solar Impulse 2 solar-powered manned aircraft, Google and Facebook nexus is the social, technological, educational, economic, and political unification of advanced information sciences, aeronautics and aerospace engineering, and alternative energy utilization, such as solar-power and protracted lithium-ion auxiliary battery power for long-range stratospheric (high-attitude) solar-powered manned aircraft and solar-powered unmanned drone communication payloads.
Is this just a “nice idea, but …” situation?
The Solar Impulse 2 solar-powered aircraft company alongside Titan and Ascenta drone makers are on the leading-edge of a promising, but previously unproven global circumnavigation air transportation technology until now. These aeronautics and aerospace firms are attempting to overcome many technical challenges to not only future international commercial passenger travel, but also to reliably beam Internet access to remote parts of the world, not currently served by telephone and cable wires or cellphone towers. Solar-power manned aircraft and solar-powered unmanned drones still remain five to ten years out in the future, before frequent practical applications emerge. Trade-offs between alternative sources of energy power that could be sustainable enough over various usages still have to be worked out.
As we humbly acknowledged in my previous post, “Missing Malaysia 370 Mystery – Why Breguet Matters,” inside my Jet Propulsion and Thermodynamics classes now underway again this spring semester at Howard University, we are once more examining the question,
Are internet-based firms, like Google and Facebook, partnerships with solar-powered manned aircraft and acquisitions of solar-powered unmanned drone technologies just a ‘nice idea, but …’ situation?”
Extremely energetic classroom discussions typically ensue about the remarkably emergent relevance of Solar Impulse 2 solar-powered manned aircraft and solar-powered unmanned drone technologies, integrated with Google and Facebook information and communication technologies, and global internet expansion integrated with conventional aerospace and mechanical engineering.
We subsequently narrowed our broader discussion, focusing on solar-powered manned and unmanned flight vehicle propulsion ‘figures of merit.’ Our exchanges established how ‘specific impulse’ and ‘overall efficiency’ of a solar-powered manned and unmanned flight vehicle are both related and encompassed by Breguet’s solar-powered manned and unmanned aircraft vehicle time of flight and range principle.
Who is Breguet?
History introduces us to a French Renaissance aircraft designer and aviation pioneer, Louis Charles Breguet. Born in Paris on January 2, 1880, and passed away in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France, on May 4, 1955, Breguet in 1919 founded the earliest French airline, organized over five years, 1919-1923. Today, Breguet’s airline is known as Air France.
Making it interesting how Breguet’s circumnavigation or global aeronautics principles fundamentally connect to Solar Impulse 2’s global circumnavigation solar-powered manned aircraft voyage, as well as, to solar-powered unmanned drone technologies.
Breguet, an aircraft manufacturer during the Second World War, developed the classical Breguet Range Equation. Breguet’s range is now the scientific standard and engineering principle used for determining the possible range of a flight. Merci Monsieur Breguet.
Why Breguet Matters?
Breguet’s principle is quite relevant to the Solar Impulse 2 solar-powered manned aircraft global circumnavigation voyage.
Breguet’s Solar-Powered Manned Aircraft or Unmanned Drone Flight-Time and Range. Louis Charles Breguet found the total time of flight, t, of a solar-powered manned aircraft, like the Solar Impulse 2, or a solar powered unmanned drone vessel is a function of three factors:
(i) The aeronautical engineering designer’s solar-powered manned aircraft or unmanned drone vehicle parameter, L/D (that is, the flight vehicle’s lift-to-drag ratio);
(ii) The propulsion engineer’s specific impulse, SI = (H/g) X (n), of the solar-powered manned flight vehicle or unmanned drone, specifically involving a (H/g) ratio of the flight vehicle or drone’s solar heating value, H, to gravitational acceleration, g, multiplied by the flight vehicle or drone’s overall efficiency, n. This overall efficiency is a dimensionless ratio of the proposed Solar Impulse 2 aircraft’s or Titan drone’s non-dimensional thrust power (or ‘useful work’, which is dependent upon the square of the flight vehicle’s or drone’s forward flight speed) to the flight vehicle’s or drone’s ‘ideal available’ solar energy. A proposed stratospheric (high-attitude) cruise flight-speed of the Titan drone may be assumed traveling at approximately 60 nautical miles per hour. Solar Impulse 2’s cruise flight speed is about 25 nautical miles per hour.
(iii) The structural engineering designer’s proportional change in the solar powered manned or unmanned aircraft vehicle weight. In other words, the proportional change in the Solar Impulse 2’s fully-loaded weight is a structural load ratio of the solar-powered aircraft’s initial weight (Wi) at about 2.5 ton or 5,070 pounds (2,300 kilograms), to the Solar Impulse 2’s final weight (Wf), carrying the solo Swiss pilot, Borschberg or Piccard, (weighing for the sake of our discussion approximately 180 pounds), resulting in a final weight (Wf) of the solar-powered flight vehicle at about 5,250 pounds.
By comparison, a solar-powered unmanned drone’s fully-loaded weight is a structural load ratio of the proposed Titan drone’s initial weight (Wi) at about 40 kilograms, to the drone’s final weight (Wf) at about 78 kilograms, which includes the drone’s 38 kilogram data communications payload.
Breguet’s total flight-time is t = (L/D) X (H/g) X (n) X log (Wi/Wf). Breguet’s Range of the solar-powered manned aircraft or solar-powered unmanned drone vehicle is simply its proposed normal cruise flight speed (say about 25 nautical miles per hour for the Solar Impulse 2 manned aircraft or say about 60 nautical miles per hour for a solar-powered unmanned drone) multiplied by Breguet’s total flight time, t, of the aircraft or drone.
All other aircraft or drone characteristics (aeronautical lift-to-drag, L/D, solar heating value, H/g, and structural weight integrity, log (Wi/Wf)) being constant, Breguet’s solar-powered manned aircraft or unmanned drone flight time and range, largely depends on the solar-powered manned aircraft’s or unmanned drone’s overall efficiency, n.
Solar Impulse 2’s wing span and tail are covered with 17,248 solar cells, which comprises the bulk of the flight vehicle’s weight, that power the manned aircraft’s on-board systems.
In contrast, Titan unmanned drones are envisioned to be manufactured with up to “3,000 solar panels, producing about 7 kilowatts of electricity.”
My extremely bright Howard students and I imaginatively theorize the Solar Impulse 2 manned lithium-ion battery powered propulsion energy or an unmanned drone vessel’s propulsion energy conversion chain consists of the solar-powered flight vehicle’s:
- radiation photon energy producing its solar heating value, H;
- electrical energy through its photovoltaic cells (PV Cells) and its lithium-ion auxiliary battery storage, especially for night air travel;
- mechanical work of its front propeller;
- mechanical transmission power;
- propeller shaft power; and
- propulsive thrust power.
Each of these six components of the solar-powered flight vehicle’s propulsion energy conversion chain is connected through its associated efficiency. These are as follows:
- (1) connects to (2) through solar radiation efficiency;
- (2) connects to (3) through electro-thermo-mechanical efficiency;
- (3) connects to (4) through mechanical transmission efficiency;
- (4) connects to (5) through propeller shaft efficiency; and finally
- (5) connects to (6) through propulsive efficiency, which could be the largest most essential one here.
The solar-powered flight vehicle’s overall efficiency, n, is simply a multiplicative product of each of these five propulsion energy conversion chain efficiency, for starters, among others.
Consensus inside my Howard University Jet Propulsion and Thermodynamics classes was that Google’s partnership with Solar Impulse 2 solar-powered manned aircraft technology, and that the Google and Facebook acquisitions of solar-powered unmanned drone technologies are indeed a “nice idea,” that is hypothetically possible from Breguet’s Range principle and solar-powered manned aircraft and unmanned drone propulsion energy conversion.
But, experts still have some questions. “The problem with solar planes is that they are limited to smaller payloads, [moreover] at night you are not collecting energy from the sun, and [finally] it takes a lot of power to broadcast Internet signals,” said Patrick Egan, a drone and unmanned aircraft industry expert.
Titan’s drones could potentially be in the air for five years at a time, relying on solar power to stay aloft,” suggests a report last year.
Commercial airlines cruise at attitudes between 26-39 thousand feet [that is, about 8-12 kilometers; or about 5-8 miles] for flight travel times ranging on-average between 2-12 hours.
It is envisioned that Solar Impulse 2 will travel with commercial passenger and cargo payloads at above 500 kilometers per hour at similar 8-12 kilometers (or 5-6 miles) in the sky. Whereas, Titan and Ascenta drones potentially will cruise at about 60 nautical miles per hour at substantially higher attitudes in the stratosphere.
Proposed drone cruise attitudes range as low as between 10–13 kilometers [that is, about 33-43 thousand feet; or about 6–8 miles], and as high as between 18-30 kilometers [that is, about 59-98 thousand feet; or about 11-19 miles]. Anticipated unmanned drone flight travel times are up to five years, whereas Solar Impulse 2 is anticipated to have flight travel times across transatlantic and transpacific legs of its global circumnavigation up to five or six hours.
Should a drone potentially fail during its long stratospheric journey at its 18-30 kilometer high attitudes, or at its 10-13 kilometer moderate attitudes, there may be some probability of a catastrophic mid-air collision with conventional gas-power or future solar-powered commercial aircraft traveling at much lower 8-12 kilometer attitudes.
Titan claims that its drones, expected for 2015 commercial applications by Google, can deliver data at broadband speeds of up to a gigabyte per second through their developed payload communications. That would be considerably quicker than broadband speeds available in most developed countries.
Facebook also has tested Titan’s drone technology. Researchers at Titan previously demonstrated to Facebook technology acquisition teams, a solar-powered unmanned drone flying at 400 feet off the ground for several minutes. Ascenta quickly came forward with a competing solar-powered drone in 2010, called ‘Zephyr’, which has flown for two weeks above the Arizona desert.
Even so, a competitively sound cost advantage of Google’s partnership in solar-powered manned aircraft technology, as well as, Google and Facebook solar-powered drone technology acquisitions is that such lightweight flight aircraft vehicles can be safely brought back down from the stratosphere to earth.
Unlike conventional gas-powered passenger aircraft and conventional heavyweight space-based communication satellites, damaged or expired solar powered manned aircraft and unmanned drone payloads can be easily repaired or replaced. Once maintenance is completed, the solar-powered manned aircraft or unmanned drone vehicle then can re-ascended energy-efficiently back into the stratosphere to resume its solar-powered journey (theoretically according to Breguet’s solar-powered manned circumnavigation air vehicle or unmanned drone flight-time and range).
One bottom-line caveat remains. That is international aviation safety with a Google and Facebook sky full of Solar Impulses and drones. This could be sufficiently controlled, just as long as, the Google and Facebook battle for the skies are not full of too many Solar Impulses and drones, floating back down to their ‘Solar Impulse and drone home-base’ landing stations, which possibly could during the aviation technological development transition interfere with conventional commercial aviation traffic controls of takeoffs and landings.
We can all agree, of course, what we do not need — inside a future of a crowded sky full of Solar Impulses and drones — is more airline delays on our already crowded airport (or perhaps in the future, “Solar Impulse”) runways.
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