A solar-powered plane is due to make its debut at the Paris International Airshow this week as aircraft manufacturing giants Airbus and Boeing slug it out for airline orders.
As big as an airliner with its 63 metre wingspan but as light, at 1,600 kilos, as a family car, the Solar Impulse will demonstrate the future of aviation with daily flights around the site, weather permitting.
Its electric propellers are powered only by solar panels and the builders hope they can fly the aircraft around the world to demonstrate the revolutionary technology to industry leaders.
Airbus parent EADS will show off plans for a rocket-powered space aircraft capable of taking 100 passengers from Paris to Tokyo in two-and-a-half environmentally friendly hours.
The “Zero Emission Hypersonic Transportation” (Zehst) will take off using normal engines powered by biofuel made from seaweed before firing up its rocket engines on the edge of space at 32,000 metres.
The rocket engines will be powered by hydrogen and oxygen whose only exhaust is water vapour. “You don’t pollute, you’re in the stratosphere,” EADS’ chief technical officer Jean Botti said.
EADS hopes to have a prototype by 2020 and for the aircraft to enter commercial service around 2050. Airbus is on home turf and flying high on the back of Asian orders for its new fuel efficient A320 Neo worth more than $10 billion but US rival Boeing is expected to also unveil major orders.
An A380 superjumbo clipped a structure by the taxiway on arrival at the Le Bourget aviation show and lost a wing-tip, ruling it out of flight demonstrations. Boeing is demonstrating its 747-8 Intercontinental, an updated version of its trademark jumbo jet which is making to make its international debut.
Fast-growing emerging Asian economies have helped keep aircraft sales buoyant amid gloom in Western markets. But on the eve of the show Boeing admitted it expects China to become a rival as well as a client.
“They are improving all the time … making huge investments,” said Jim Albaugh, head of Boeing’s commercial aircraft operations, saying Chinese aerospace firms would win sales “probably sooner than anyone thinks.”
Commercial Aircraft Corp of China (Comac) is making its first appearance in Paris, with a mock-up of the cockpit and fuselage of its C919, which targets the medium-haul market dominated by Boeing’s B737 and Airbus’ A320.
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