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Dassault and Solar Impulse demonstrate the possibilities of clean flight

Dassault Systèmes’ 3D Experience software was critical in designing Solar Impulse 2, a solar aircraft which is currently being tested for a round the world flight - without using a drop of fuel.

The aircraft is currently making a series of flights, hopping from one continent to the next, in a bid to become the first solar aircraft to travel around the world.

André Borschberg, co-founder CEO and pilot, Solar Impulse said: ‘For over a century, pioneers have been pushing the limits of aviation and transforming ideas into “firsts,” from the first human flight to balloon flights and space missions once thought to be impossible. We continue to apply this entrepreneurial spirit to engineering and research programs that blend 21st century technologies like the 3DExperience platform with a mission to improve mankind’s impact on the environment.’

 Solar Impulse uses Dassault Systèmes’ 3DExperience platform, including its Catia and Enovia applications, to design, build, and validate this second solar airplane.

With a 72 metre wingspan, slightly larger than that of a Boeing 747-8I, designing and validating the aircraft was no easy task. The wings contain 17,000 solar cells which supply four electric motors to recharge lithium batteries weighing 633 Kg.

It is this system which allows the aircraft to fly at night, during the day the solar cells recharge the batteries allowing the aircraft to fly at night with virtually unlimited autonomy.

Somewhat surprisingly, the CEO and chairman of the company behind Solar Impulse 2 are also its pilots, Bertrand Piccard, psychiatrist, aeronaut, and one of the first people to complete a non-stop ballon flight around the globe, is the chairman of the company. André Borschberg, an engineer and graduate in management science, fighter pilot and a professional airplane and helicopter pilot, is the CEO.

In 1999 after balloons, Piccard moved his attention to solar flight. He presented this new project to the Ecole Polytechnique de Lausanne (EPFL) in 2003, which agreed to launch a feasibility study led by Andres Borschberg.

The Solar Impulse website states: ‘Bertrand Piccard’s vision, coupled with André Borschberg’s managerial experience and the skills of a multi-disciplinary team have enabled an idea to be transformed into reality that no aviation specialists, apart from Dassault, believed in: “Too big, too light and impossible to control in flight”, they all said.’

Designing the aircraft was a struggle, as the team faced new challenges and trade-offs in designing the innovative plane, including a new design for the fuselage and wings, and using new materials to achieve strict weight objectives. Designing a cockpit was a particular focus as the pilots would be piloting a craft around the world at between 36-140 kph.

'We had to be right the first time. We needed proven, cutting edge industry solutions to craft the experience for which we were looking. That’s why we went to Dassault Systèmes and its 3DExperience platform,’ said Piccard.

Piccard concluded: ‘An experienced perspective is exactly what we needed when creating an airplane to achieve such long flights. We’re in the cockpit for five days at a time. Everything, from the propulsion, to the electronics, to the crew facilities needs to be considered, planned, integrated and implemented for such a flight to be successful.’

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