I really do hope they are. Often when I've caught a plane (which admittedly isn't so much these days, largely because I hate being treated like branded cattle at airports) I've thought surely there must be a way to harness all this sunlight above the clouds, rather than relying on noisy, polluting jet engines. Now it seems we are getting closer to this becoming a reality.
Pilot Andre Borschberg has recently flown a solar panelled plane non stop for 26 hours, completing the longest and highest ever journey for a plane powered by the Sun at an altitude of 8,500m (27,900ft). Called the Solar Impulse, the solar-powered plane has a massive wingspan of nearly 64m (208 ft) and is fitted with 12,000 solar cells which can apparently be recharged so that the plane could fly indefinitely.
"People thought it was not possible but it was important for us to show that it was," said the 56 year old former Swiss airforce pilot. "We enjoyed a gorgeous day in terms of beauty, nature and scenery - it was unbelievable."
Now the challenge is on to go all the way round the world in a solar plane. How much longer before passenger planes could be developed which could harness natural energy from the sun? Will it be in our lifetimes. I would like to think so.
Technical data sheet:
Motor power: 4 x 10 HP electric engines
Solar cells: 11,628 (10,748 on wing, 880 on the horizontal stabiliser)
Average flying speed: 70km/h
Maximum altitude: 8,500m
Computer generated demonstration: