Airplane of the Future Taking Off

By King, Llewellyn | The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV), July 5, 2019 | Go to article overview

Airplane of the Future Taking Off


King, Llewellyn, The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV)


The case for electric airplanes is overwhelming.

The problems of today's aircraft are well-known: noise and pollution. Homeowners may hate the noise, but pollution is the bigger issue.

While jet aircraft account only for a small part of the greenhouse gas releases worldwide, it is where they release them that makes them especially damaging. Nasty at sea level; at 30,000 feet and above, they are potent contributors to the greenhouse problem.

The answer is to begin to electrify aviation.

The need has not escaped the big air frame makers. Boeing in the United States and Airbus in Europe both have electric airplane programs. Tech giants Uber, Google and Amazon all want to develop electric vehicles to use as ride-sharing cars, pilotless air taxis and delivery drones.

A raft of small companies worldwide is working on new electric airplanes, usually just two-seaters. Some are flying, but batteries limit their airborne endurance to one to two hours.

Already, there is an experimental, pilotless air taxi system in Abu Dhabi. Frankfurt airport is about to announce a system as is Singapore.

Enter Andre Borschberg: a Swiss innovator, pilot, entrepreneur and passionate environmentalist. He may know more about electric propulsion than anyone else and is a great believer in the electric future of flying.

Borschberg, along with Swiss balloonist Bertrand Piccard, built and flew the solar-powered electric airplane, Solar Impulse 2, around the world, landing triumphantly in Abu Dhabi on July 26, 2016.

Flying the first aircraft they built, Solar Impulse 1, Borschberg eclipsed all records for endurance by staying aloft alone for 117 hours. He holds 14 world flying records.

Borschberg and Piccard created the Solar Impulse Foundation that is seeking to identify and assist 1,000 technologies that help the environment. Those listed so far range from a plastic recycling system to self-contained toilets to village-scale desalination plants.

"They have to be able to make a profit, Borschberg told me in a telephone interview. He believes the dynamics of the free market must be put in play to solve the growing global environmental crisis. …

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