The term “barnstorming” means traveling around the countryside giving speeches, lectures or performances. Solar Impulse, the first aircraft that runs completely on solar energy, barnstormed across America to make a point about dramatic progress in renewable solar power. The Swiss team that developed and pilots the Solar Impulse, André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard, completed the third leg of the cross-country journey June 13 at Lambert–St. Louis International Airport, St. Louis, Mo., but not without drama. A tornado the previous week had destroyed the hangar where the plane was supposed to be housed. So for the first time, the portable hangar specifically designed for the Solar Impulse, composed of 12 modules, sheltered the plane in St.Louis. (After a few days, however, the team commissioned a clearspan tent from American Pavilion, Danville, Ill., in order to be able to allow visitors inside.)
Solar Impulse main partner Solvay S.A., headquartered in Brussels, Belgium, is a chemical company with expertise in plastics and polymers. Solvay consulted with the Solar Impulse team on a fabric for the inflatable hangar, recommending a lightweight material sourced from the sailing world. The hangar can be inflated by 12 people in six hours (although the team managed to get it up in a few hours in St. Louis after its 21-hour and 21-minute flight from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport), with proportions of approximately 300 feet long by 105 feet wide by 36 feet tall. Once fully inflated, the hangar can protect the Solar Impulse from wind gusts up to 62 mph. The material’s translucency also allows the plane to charge its batteries while sitting in its hangar.
In July, the Solar Impulse became the first aircraft to fly coast-to-coast across the U.S. without using any fuel. The next goal is for the second generation aircraft, HB-SIB, to circumnavigate the globe in 2015. For all the details, visit Solar Impulse.