Impulse aircraft to circumnavigate the globe without fuel
Sun in the tank
Flying around, powered only by the sun: What sounds like a fantasy is to become reality in 2015 – thanks to an ultra-light airplane with innovative materials from Bayer MaterialScience.
Airborne adventure: a solar-powered plane is scheduled to fly around the world without fuel
A pale yellow square: small as a notepad, light as a feather. Bernd Rothe holds the foam sample up to the rear of the cockpit. “Here’s one of the places where our material is used,” the engineer from Bayer MaterialScience explains. Standing next to him in a hangar in Payerne, Switzerland, is a man in a black flight jacket, who nods in agreement.
Bertrand Piccard has great hopes for the innovative polyurethane rigid foam: The material is intended to help him achieve his dream: to circumnavigate the earth for the first time in a manned aircraft that flies without any fuel, powered exclusively by solar energy.
The Swiss aviation pioneer has the spirit of adventure running in his veins: his grandfather Auguste in the 1930s set altitude records in balloons, whereas his father Jacques and a partner three decades later were the first to reach the deepest part of the world's ocean.Bertrand himself, together with a companion, managed to complete the first non-stop balloon flight around the globe in 1999.
Four years later, he embarked on his current mission: the Solar Impulse project. This is less about setting another record, but demonstrating how clean technologies can contribute to significantly reduce energy consumption.
Extreme cold and heat
With the pioneering around-the-world flight planned for 2015, work on the crucial second model of the aircraft - called HB-SIB - is underway. It is expected to be completed in late 2013 and will conduct test flights the following year. Numerous innovative products from Bayer MaterialScience will be on board again this time, similar to those being used in a prototype that already completed a number of day and night flights.
The main goal is to make Piccard’s “aircraft of the future” as light as possible. But some other challenges exist as well. The cockpit, for example, must be especially well insulated because the aircraft is exposed to extreme temperature fluctuations. Outside, the thermometer can drop to minus 50 degrees at night and reach plus 50 degrees during the day.
This is where the material that engineer Rothe pointed out on the prototype aircraft comes into play: Baytherm™ Microcell, an extremely high-performance insulating material developed by Bayer MaterialScience. The company is also responsible for the complete design of the cockpit shell.
30 Bayer researchers involved
“We are now deepening our involvement in this project, as we go from materials supplier to system leader,” says Patrick Thomas, Chief Executive Officer of Bayer MaterialScience. “The Bayer Cross will be displayed on the aircraft in the future as a visible symbol of our commitment to this excellent partnership.”
Bayer MaterialScience has been an official partner to the Solar Impulse project since 2010. “To make our vision a reality, we are relying on the expertise and innovative capability of the company,” says Piccard. About 30 researchers are working at the Bayer laboratories in Germany on ideas for lightweight construction and energy efficiency.
The prototype HIB-SIA has the wingspan of a large airliner but weighs no more than a mid-size car. During the day, 12,000 solar cells on the surface power four electric motors and charge an equal number of lithium polymer batteries. They enable the plane to fly with solar energy even during the night.
Flight across the USA
Among the high-performance products and solutions from Bayer MaterialScience are polyurethane rigid foams for the wing tips, motor gondolas and cabin as well as polycarbonate films for the cabin window. In addition, adhesive and coating raw materials are used in several places.
HIB-SIA took off on its maiden flight in April 2010. Since then Piccard and his colleague and friend André Borschberg have flown from Switzerland to Belgium, France and even to Morocco. And in 2013 the plane is scheduled to fly across the USA – from California to New York.