This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

March 09, 2005

Fuel Efficiency Key to Around-the-World Flight

Photo of the GlobalFlyer—with a wind span more than four times greater than the private aircraft trailing behind it—flying above rugged mountains.

A chase plane trails the GlobalFlyer as it passes over the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Credit: Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer

When Steve Fossett completed his record-breaking solo flight around the world on March 3rd, a significant aspect of his achievement was the high fuel efficiency of his aircraft, the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer. Starting with a highly aerodynamic design, the aircraft structure was built entirely out of graphite and epoxy, including stiff carbon fibers in the wings. Even the seat was made of carbon fiber, keeping the vehicle's weight at only 3,350 pounds when empty. At takeoff, however, the aircraft weighed 22,006 pounds, with fuel contributing to 83 percent of its weight. See the aircraft description on the GlobalFlyer Web site.

While Fossett's flight is the first non-stop solo flight around the world using fuel, a European team of adventurers still hope to fly around the world using only solar power. Although no news has come from the Solar Impulse team recently, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced last year that it was helping to design the craft. As currently envisioned, the craft will have a wingspan of about 76 yards that will be covered with solar cells, with two tail-mounted propellers. Initial test flights are expected to start in 2006, but the team doesn't plan to make its around-the-world attempt until 2009. See the Solar Impulse Web site and the ESA press release.