A glimpse of a fuel-free future? - Solar flight crosses Pacific

It’s not even a century since John Alcock and Arthur Brown became the first men to fly across the Atlantic. 

They flew a modified First World War Vickers Vimy bomber from St John’s, Newfoundland, to Clifden in Galway, in June, 1919. In the intervening 97 years, transatlantic flight has become a reality of everyday life, available to anyone who can afford it.

The cost of this great emancipator is not just material. Air transport produces unsustainable levels of greenhouse gases. This threat to climate stability is often the result of the most frivolous use of air miles, an indulgence that may seem at least feckless if not incomprehensible in times to come. That is unless science can find a better balance between the demand for flight and the pollution it causes... and it may just have.

Last Saturday a solar-powered plane landed in California after 62-hour flight — without fuel — from Hawaii. The pilots, Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, appropriately enough, landed in the Silicon Valley south of San Francisco.

The plane’s ideal flight speed is about 45kmh, though that can double when the sun’s rays are strongest. Alcock and Brown, powered by two Rolls-Royce Eagle 360hp engines, travelled at more than four times that speed at 185kmh. The 1919 flight was a giant step for mankind but in the context of the threat posed by global warming last Saturday’s achievement may, in time, be regarded as even more important.


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