Project Management Institute

Flying on Sunshine

A Solar Plane Circles the Globe—and Other Sustainable Flight Projects are Taking Off

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Solar Impulse 2 flying over the pyramids in Egypt

PHOTOS COURTESY OF SOLAR IMPULSE SA

Around the world in 16 months—and with zero fuel. When Solar Impulse 2 touched down in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates in July, it became the first aircraft powered exclusively by the sun to fly around the world. If project teams continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible, the future of solar aircraft will be bright.

For solar-powered aircraft to fly through the night, they must carry ultra-efficient batteries that can capture and store massive amounts of energy during the day. But these batteries must also be lightweight to maximize energy efficiency. “You can imagine in 20 years you can have an aircraft the size of a 737 that’s electric—but you can’t be sure,” David Zingg, director of the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies, told The Washington Post. “That all depends on battery technology.”

As teams find ways to overcome these challenges, solar-powered projects will become more commercially viable. For instance, Airbus Defence & Space is working on a £13 million project to produce three solar-powered Zephyr S high-altitude pseudo-satellites for the U.K. Ministry of Defence. The first of the unmanned crafts is under construction at the French company’s U.K. facility. To meet the customer’s requirement that the satellites carry surveillance equipment, the Zephyr S will be 30 percent lighter than previous models. Tests begin in mid-2017; if all goes well, the Zephyrs will run exclusively on solar power and be able to fly for up to 45 days straight. The solar aircraft could deliver big benefits: Airbus says replacing one conventional unmanned aerial vehicle with a Zephyr would save 2,000 tons of fuel a year. —Kelsey O’Connor

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Pilot Bertrand Piccard during the first round-the-world solar flight

“You can imagine in 20 years you can have an aircraft the size of a 737 that’s electric.... That all depends on battery technology.”

—David Zingg, University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies, to The Washington Post

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NOVEMBER 2016 PM NETWORK
PM NETWORK NOVEMBER 2016 WWW.PMI.ORG

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