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December 2007 edition

Solar Impulse puts achievements first with revolutionary 'little and large' combination

Lessons from technical challenges that have to be solved to fly a revolutionary solar aircraft of "little weight and large frame" around the world should provide spin-off advances for manufacturers from 2012.

"Never before has an aircraft as large and light been constructed," says Phil Mundwiller, head of communications for the Solar Impulse project. "Never before has such an efficiently performing propulsion system been optimised and rarely has a team taken on so many technical challenges."

Research that could impact on greening, lightening and possibly the more economic powering of certain functions of the aircraft of the future is being carried out by Solar Impulse partners including Solvay, Dassault, Omega and Altran.

Solvay, an international chemical and pharmaceutical group, is further developing polymers to replace heavier metals used on aircraft. "Our focus is on researching innovative materials and technical solutions, the replication and simulation of their behaviour in extreme environments, and their technical soundness. We are also carrying out complex 3D simulations on large parts of the aircraft," says Solvay spokesman Martial Tardy.

The project, begun in 2005, has reached an interesting stage. Omega says: "The recent successful completion of the Solar Impulse 'virtual flight' has demonstrated the extraordinary potential of the project, not only to catch the public's imagination, but to pioneer technologies that bring the future into the present." Full report (2031 words) is available by subscription:  

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Dassault Aviation Airframer
Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne Technical/Eng/Scientific Studies, Research/Consulting Services
Altran AG Project Management Consultants
Solar Impulse SA Airframer

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