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April 14, 2014

Swiss aviators unveil solar-powered airplane


After 12 years of research and testing, two Swiss aviators recently unveiled the Solar Impulse-2, a huge airplane that runs on solar-power.

It’s wingspan is wider than a Boeing 747, often referred to as the Jumbo Jet, but weighs no more than a large car. The plane is covered with more than 17,000 solar cells.

The designers and pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg have made several long trips on a previous version of the plane– including a flight across the Mediterranean — from Switzerland to Morocco. They say the new plane is even better.

“We have the best electrical motors, the best batteries, the lightest possible structure, the most efficient consuming electricity products in the airplane cockpit,” said Piccard.

Next year, the two plan to fly the plane around the world; a 500 hour journey over the world’s vast oceans, half of it at night … in the dark. However, they expect that the solar cells can harness enough energy from the sun to keep the plane on course.

Warm up questions
  1. How many gallons of gas do you think it takes to fly a plane for 10 hours?
  2. What sources of energy do we use? Where do they come from?
Discussion questions
  1. How does solar energy compare to other sources of energy in terms of its cost to the environment?
  2. Do you think that all planes will fly on solar power in the near future? Is that realistic?
Writing prompts

Imagine that you are the head of a plane manufacturing company. Weigh the risks and benefits of a solar-powered plane compared to a traditional gas-powered plane. Would you choose to put money into research and development (R&D) for solar powered planes or would you continue to keep your money invested in making the same gas-powered planes.

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