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Solar Flight: Icarus Unbound

Recent events in the aviation world suggest that solar-powered aircraft are poised to literally -- and figuratively -- take off, including a record breaking flight over Yuma, Arizona by the Zephyr. Pictured is Solar Impulse concept.

Published: 31-Aug-2008

CARUS had the right idea about climbing above the clouds where the sun can work its wonders. Unfortunately, solar energy and aeronautical engineering were not two of his stronger points. Today, we know enough about both technologies to make a better job of it.

Yet whenever your correspondent gazes out from a window seat at the shiny surface of a plane’s wings and fuselage, he wonders why aircraft designers don’t take advantage of such an ideal platform for solar cells. Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest they could help offset fuel costs by enough to make a difference.

Sure, better engine design could perhaps more readily achieve such an improvement, but that would take billions in research and development.

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