Oct. 26, 2012 at 3:02 PM ET
The Sunseeker, a solar-powered plane-glider hybrid that has been flying for more than two decades, is about to get a new, more spacious successor — but only if the builders can secure the funding.
Eric Raymond built the original Sunseeker on the frame of a Stemme S-10 glider, and flew across the U.S. in it. The lightweight plane can climb to a decent height using batteries, then charge those batteries by gliding above the cloud layer. It's put in thousands of miles and is going strong, but recently they've been working on putting together an improved two-seater version.
The dynamics of solar flight are so sensitive to things like weight and solar cell efficiency that putting another passenger in (adding, say, 150 pounds) would totally compromise the vessel's ability to fly. But by employing improved materials and more efficient solar cells, Raymond hopes to be able to halve the dry weight of the plane and make room for a second passenger.
But it's not cheap building a state-of-the-art solar plane, so they're hoping to sprint the last mile with a Kickstarter campaign. Unfortunately, as of this writing only $7,041 has been pledged of the $70,000 they hoped to raise, so it may be that they'll have to find the money elsewhere. The campaign ends on November 11th.
Either way the Sunseeker Duo, as they're calling it, is a sure thing. With a dedicated and passionate team and some partners in the industry (both of which they have), it'll happen sooner or later. You can follow the project's progress and get plenty more information at the Sunseeker teams's site, Solar Flight.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.