Bertrand Piccard is a third generation adventurer working toward a high-flying goal: To develop the first airplane to be able to fly around the world using only solar power, generating no pollution during its flight.
His grandfather, Auguste Piccard, invented the pressurized cabin and the stratospheric balloon, flying to 16,201 meters in 1932, and also built a unique submarine, the Bathyscaphe, diving to 3150 meters in 1953. Bertrand's father, Jacques, made the world record deepest-ever dive of 7 miles down to the bottom of the Marianas Trench, and built the world's first passenger submarine. Bertrand himself made the first non-stop, around-the-world flight by a balloon, the longest flight in the history of aviation. His newest adventure is the Solar Impulse project.
"One could easily believe one were taking part in a Jules Verne novel: a team wanting to promote renewable energies sets off on a world tour in a solar airplane so as to fly without fuel or pollution... The revenge of Icarus, in a way.
A new Utopia? A beautiful scene from a science fiction? No, an avant garde technological challenge! A sufficiently eccentric project to appeal to one's emotions and get one's adrenalin pumping: to harness a clean and renewable energy, and use it without limit to fly night and day." - Jean Verne
The first prototype, the HB-SIA, is currently under construction at Dübendorf, Switzerland. The goal of the project is to produce a completely new aircraft with an excellent efficiency-weight ratio, intelligent energy management systems and high performance storage elements. The first tests will be carried out in 2009, with the second aircraft to be built in 2010 for further tests of long range flight. In 2011, the Solar Impulse team intends to fly around the world completely powered by solar energy.
Funding for the project comes from Solvay, Omega, and Deutsche Bank, with other angel investors and partners supporting it as well.
For more videos and pictures of the project, visit the Solar Impulse site.