Lightweight solar-powered plane soars

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Solar Impulse 2 The solar-powered plane Solar Impulse 2, built with a variety of lightweight plastic components, took its maiden flight early on June 2.

PAYERNE, SWITZERLAND — A solar-powered plane featuring polyurethane components for light-weighting made its inaugural flight overnight.

The Solar Impulse 2 is set to undertake the world’s first fuel-free circumnavigation of the globe and is a larger, upgraded version of one that flew across America last year.

The sun-powered craft flew from Switzerland’s Payerne airfield at around 3:35 a.m.  on June 2 and returned two hours later.

The craft was invented by Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg utilizing, as previously reported, PU products from Bayer MaterialScience to reduce its weight.

Its cockpit features BMS’s lightweight foam insulation system Baytherm Microcell as well as adhesives and coatings from BMS. The carbon-fiber aircraft has a 72 meter wingspan — wider than a Boeing 747 jet — yet weighs just 2.3 metric tons.

“It’s a great day for all the team of Solar Impulse,” Piccard said following the journey.

“An airplane like this is absolutely unique. And for the first time in history, we have an airplane that is flying with no fuel day and night, showing the incredible potential of the clean technologies.”

BMS contributed a high-performance insulating material, Baytherm Microcell. The German chemical firm said its insulating performance is more than 10 percent greater than alternative grades.

The aircraft will need to withstand temperature fluctuations between minus 40 degrees celsius at night and plus 40 degrees celsius during the day.

Bayer Microcell is also used for the aircraft door and the company supplies polycarbonate/carbon composite material for the locks, plus thin sheets of transparent, high-performance polycarbonate for the window.

Although the cockpit is larger than in the prototype, it is only minimally heavier, added the company.

Inaugural flight pilot Markus Scherdel climbed more than 1,800 meters in the craft. Vibrations were reported at the start, but the maiden flight was deemed a success by the team.