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Solar Impulse 2 in Tulsa – The Future is Now


The big news in Tulsa this week is that the Solar Electric Airplane, Solar Impulse 2, flying from Abu Dahbi around the world landed at our local airport a few days ago. American Airlines had a huge hanger available and they let the plane park there until the weather clears up. The owners of the plane made it available for public viewing for two days. So of course I had to go since there was no admission charge.


The airplane is amazing. It uses only solar electric power, with batteries, and can take off on its own power. It can fly for days at a time. It is about 74 feet long and has a wingspan of 236 feet yet its fully loaded weight is 5100 pounds. It has four engines, each of which can generate 17.4 horsepower. Its maximum service altitude is 27,000 feet but with supplemental oxygen for the pilot the aircraft can go up to 39,000 feet. I got all these stats from wikipedia because teasing it out of the plane’s website was kind of hard.


I figured out what the term “Cavernous Hangar” means. This thing is huge!!

The plane is amazing piece of engineering. It is so light and can generate enough power from solar panels and with the batteries on board it can fly pretty much indefinitely. It has a crew of only one person in an unheated and unpressurized cockpit. It uses an autopilot to fly when the pilot is sleeping. The project has a support staff of about 60 people a bunch of whom were in Tulsa. The control center is in Monaco. The spend a considerable amount of time plotting routes that avoid weather. The plane cannot take very much weather. 



The plane’s owners intend the project to be a demonstration of the feasibility of solar power and its practicality and I must say the demonstration is impressive.

I was most interested in how the thing took off. Surely I thought it was pulled by a truck or something but no, as the above video shows it takes off under its own power.


As interesting as the takeoff is I thought the landing was a very skillful and precise affair. It has to be perfect.

And a video about the landing in Tulsa. They are trying to get through tornado alley as fast as they can.


Leaving the hangar we got a glimpse of the Solar Impulse’s support aircraft, a funky looking Russian made Ilyushin II-76 heavy cargo carrier. According to my good friends at Wikipedia it can carry 40 tons of cargo a distance of 2700 miles and land on a dirt runway. I found it almost as amazing as they Solar Impulse.