Nous avons rencontré, il y a quelques semaines, l’un des membres de SOLAR FLIGHT INC, l’avion propulsé par l’énergie solaire ayant déjà battu plusieurs records depuis 1990. Eric Lentz-Gauthier était sur Paris à l’occasion du salon 1.618 (luxe et développement durable) et s’est prêté au jeu de l’interview après validation auprès du membre fondateur de la Solar Flight Team (SFT) et sa femme, Eric et Irena Raymond restés en Californie.
SG : Could you resume your feat ? SFT : You can read the short history here
SG : How comes a such idea ?
SFT : Very early on in the flying of the original Sunseeker airplane, it was obvious that the next goal would be to build an airplane that could carry passengers to share this experience. We had to wait for some technologies to advance before it became possible. Solar cell efficiency was the major enabling technology. The new cells that we are using are nearly 10x the performance of the cells on the original airplane! To watch the « fuel tank » filling up as you sit on top of the clouds is an entirely new experience. It is something that we can try to describe, but it really needs to be experienced first hand. The horizon looks different when you are flying with an unlimited source of free energy. Once you have experienced this, your perspective is forever changed.
SG : How did you prepare yourself (mentally and physically) ?
SFT : When doing any type of flying, it is important to be disciplined, but especially when you are flying something experimental. It is exciting to accomplish new feats, to break records, to make first flights; and sometimes there is a lot of pressure generated from the excitement. It takes a lot of discipline to keep safety as the first priority. Sometimes you have to call off a flight because of something that seems trivial, but once you are in the sky, nothing is trivial! Building an airplane is a huge endeavor. During the process of design and construction, a big part of the mental challenge is to keep the dream in mind even when you are faced with obstacles that seem insurmountable. Sometimes to face the tedious parts of the project in the workshop takes more courage than the flying.
SG : What type and how many stake holders involved into your project ?
SFT : The biggest investment in Solar Flight’s endeavors comes in the form of time. Thousands of hours of work from an incredibly talented and experienced group of people who share a passion for aviation pioneering. We also have good technical alliances with companies ranging from advanced materials to avionics. The project would not be possible without their technologies and support.
SG : Please answer with a genuine approach : what’s the best picture of this journey do you keep in mind ? The worse ?
SF T: At Solar Flight we like to be at the cutting edge of what is possible in sport aviation. We like to demonstrate new possibilities for sport aviation. Our best hope is that we can develop technology that will be adopted in production airplanes and that we can continue to push the limits of what is possible with new technologies as they develop. Right now is a very exciting time for sport aviation. Electric drivetrains have incredible promise. With all of the great things that we can accomplish with technologies and ideas that are available right now, TODAY, the worst thing I can imagine is a failure to recognize our potential; a failure to have the courage to recreate our world in the most beautiful way we can. We’re making sure that doesn’t happen!
SG : What’s your main goal in life ? SFT : To leave things better than I found them.
SG : What part of the world, people are more concious about preserving the planet ?
SFT : I don’t think there is any one place that you can point to and say, « here is the best place! » In all parts of the world you can find things that are being done very well and things that can be improved. In Slovenia, where Irena is from, there is a fantastic culture for growing your own food. It is inspiring to ride around her town and see the beautiful gardens that everyone has, and it’s always a treat to eat dinner at her house because the table is full of things from her yard, or from the yards of her friends (and she’s an incredible chef!). Where I live in California, it is exciting to watch bicycle culture grow and to see cities like San Francisco continuously improving bicycle infrastructures. The airplane is based near Milan now, so I have spent some time there recently; and we were also recently in Paris with the original airplane (where you and I met!) – I was excited to see bicycles everywhere in both of these cities. My phone is full of pictures of beautiful bikes from Paris and Milan. Every city has a unique cycling culture and aesthetic, but the common theme is that cycling culture is growing rapidly, it gives me a lot of hope.
SG : What do you suggest to French people for preserving their country, their city, garden ?
SFT : From where I’m sitting, I think it might be more appropriate for French people to suggest some things to us (in the U.S.)! It is encouraging to visit Paris and to see how much the city has changed for the better in the past few years with all of the cycling infrastructure and the electric vehicle initiatives. We all know what we need to do. Be efficient with the things we use and with the way we get around and the things we choose to buy and to eat. For me that means riding a bike and taking trains, keeping a garden and supporting local farmers and businesses. Sometimes it is difficult to break out of old habit patterns, but in my experience the things that are best for the planet also lead to a better quality of life. There is a beautiful world emerging, do everything you can do to encourage it to flourish!
SG : What’s the next step ?
SF T: Another cup of coffee!
SG : Can we follow you on social networks ? SF T: Absolutely. Facebook is the best place to keep up with updates from the project. Now that the new airplane is flying, it will be exciting. A lot of adventures coming up, and we’ll be going after some big records. The new airplane has camera mounts everywhere, so it will be fun to watch.
Bon vent ..et soleil, à la Solar Flight Team et special thanks to Eric Lentz-Gauthier (cf derniere grande nouvelle ci-dessous*).
* Eric vient juste de m’envoyer cette Latest news :
Another First for Solar FlightMay 30, 2014: Another major milestone for solar powered aviation, Sunseeker Duo is now officially the first solar powered airplane to carry two people. Irena and Eric Raymond, the husband and wife team responsible for the new airplane, took off together from Solar Flight’s test facility in the countryside near Milan, Italy.
“Flying the Duo, skimming the white fluffy clouds from above and playing on the sky, I feel like a bird. No limitations, a pure freedom.” Said Irena, adding, “It’s so quiet! Compared to a normal airplane, it’s like night and day. You need very good headset in other powered airplanes, but in the Duo you can speak normally even when the motor is running full power, no headset needed. It is unbelievable.”
The small team continues to expand the performance envelope of the new airplane as flight testing progresses. In June, the couple plans to make a 100 mile trip to a neighboring airport to begin to explore the airplane’s cross country capabilities. The seats are able to recline fully supine so that one of the pilots can sleep during extremely long flights and the airplane is designed to carry enough baggage for long autonomous expeditions in remote parts of the world.
The Sunseeker Duo is the most advanced solar powered airplane in the world and the first that is suitable for production. It is Solar Flight’s third solar powered airplane. It has a wingspan of 22 meters, an empty weight of 280 kg, and 1510 solar cells with 23% efficiency. The motor has a maximum output of 25kW. The airplane takes off like a normal airplane using energy stored in a battery pack in the fuselage and then is able to cruise directly on solar power. With two people on board, the Duo is capable of flights in excess of 12 hours. It uses a battery pack located in the fuselage to store energy harvested from the solar cells which line its wings and tail surfaces.