In 1981, the Solar Challenger (here in an artist's rendition) became the first solar-powered aircraft to successfully fly across the English Channel.

Image courtesy NASA
  • On July 7, 1981, Solar Challenger became the first solar-powered aircraft to fly across the English Channel. After being delayed for weeks, clear skies allowed Solar Challenger to complete the 266-kilometer (165-mile) journey from Paris, France, to Manston, England, in five and a half hours. Powered by two small electric motors and more than 16,000 solar cells, the lightweight aircraft converted solar energy into the power necessary for the flight.

    While he did not think that solar-powered aircraft would be widely used, Paul MacCready, the engineer of Solar Challenger, designed the plane to challenge the idea of reliance on fossil fuels. Technology from Solar Challenger was later explored in the solar-powered Pathfinder and Helios aircraft, which MacCready’s company developed with NASA as “atmospheric satellites.”

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    convert Verb

    to change from one thing to another.

    convert Verb

    to change from one thing to another.

    engineer Noun

    person who plans the building of things, such as structures (construction engineer) or substances (chemical engineer).

    engineer Noun

    person who plans the building of things, such as structures (construction engineer) or substances (chemical engineer).

    fossil fuel Noun

    coal, oil, or natural gas. Fossil fuels formed from the remains of ancient plants and animals.

    fossil fuel Noun

    coal, oil, or natural gas. Fossil fuels formed from the remains of ancient plants and animals.

    reliance Noun

    dependence.

    reliance Noun

    dependence.

    satellite Noun

    object that orbits around something else. Satellites can be natural, like moons, or made by people.

    satellite Noun

    object that orbits around something else. Satellites can be natural, like moons, or made by people.

    solar energy Noun

    radiation from the sun.

    Encyclopedic Entry: solar energy
    solar energy Noun

    radiation from the sun.

    Encyclopedic Entry: solar energy
    technology Noun

    the science of using tools and complex machines to make human life easier or more profitable.

    technology Noun

    the science of using tools and complex machines to make human life easier or more profitable.