Solar Impulse Deploys Inflatable Hangar After Continuing Flight
Solar Impulse, the solar-powered airplane landed in Lambert-St. Louis International Airport on Tuesday, June 4th. The completion of the third leg of the 2013 Across America mission also inaugurates the use of the inflatable mobile hangar, deployed for the first time during a mission. Landing in St. Louis brings Swiss pioneers Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, a step closer to accomplishing the coast-to-coast crossing of the USA, with New York City as final destination.
This was Bertrand Piccard's longest flight in the single-seat cockpit to date. The flight originated Monday, June 3rd from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport when Piccard took off at 04:06 a.m. CDT (Texas time). After 21 hours and 21 minutes, he landed the Solar Impulse prototype at 01:28 a.m. CDT Tuesday, June 4th at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.
While Solar Impulse was on its way from Dallas to St. Louis, the rest of the Solar Impulse team had only a few hours to deploy the inflatable mobile hangar where the aircraft will be housed upon landing. Operating in real time mission conditions was a first for the project and an important milestone. The revolutionary structure has been conceived and designed by Solar Impulse for the around-the-world mission in 2015, but will now provide a shelter after last weekend's storm that severely damaged the hangar reserved for Solar Impulse at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.
"We brought the inflatable hangar to the USA for testing purposes and in fact it allowed the mission to stay on schedule. This exercise is now a proof of concept: rather than taking the airplane to a hangar, we have taken the hangar to the airplane," said André Borschberg, Co-founder, CEO and pilot of Solar Impulse.
The choice of St. Louis as the Solar Impulse Midwest stop was no coincidence. The city has played a significant role in the history of U.S. aviation back in the days when Charles Lindbergh was a chief pilot for the Chicago to St. Louis U.S. Mail Route. The city's business leaders, including the namesake of Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, Albert Bond Lambert, supported Lindbergh in his bid to make the first trans-Atlantic flight between New York and Paris in 1927 in the "Spirit of St. Louis."
"It was particularly important for me to come to St. Louis because I was so inspired when I met Charles Lindbergh at Cape Canaveral during a launch of the Apollo when I was eleven years old. I'm truly moved to be able to land here today with Solar Impulse," said Bertrand Piccard, Initiator, Chairman and pilot of Solar Impulse shortly after landing.
An innovative concept: an inflatable hangar conceived and designed by the Solar Impulse team to shelter the aircraft at stopovers along the circumnavigation of the globe in 2015. The textile chosen to build the hangar, although very resistant, is also thin enough to be translucent. This allows sunlight to shine through to charge the solar airplane's batteries. Significant research was invested in the concept to ensure high versatility, low weight, high resistance and easy transportation. Each module is a separate entity.
It took several years of research and analysis to find the appropriate material and the most efficient design to fit Solar Impulse project specificities. Thanks to direct collaboration and key support from Solar Impulse Main Partner Solvay, the mobile hangar is being used today. The first wind resistance tests were conducted in 2011 with the first prototype and the first time the aircraft was integrated into the structure was in early 2013. The first time the inflatable mobile hangar was deployed in real time mission conditions was at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport in June 2013.
Early on in the project the team identified a need for a very flexible solution to shelter the aircraft anywhere in the world with rapid deployment. The light weight of the aircraft requires appropriate protection from adverse weather conditions at all times, a requirement that would be difficult to satisfy at every airport along the 2015 around-the-world flight itinerary.