When you’re flying around the world in a lightweight solar-powered plane with a wingspan larger than most commercial airliners, you need to guarantee you’ve always got a safe place to store it on the ground. So the support team behind the Solar Impulse, the world’s first globe circumnavigating solar-powered aircraft, decided that the easiest way to guarantee it always had adequate shelter, was to simply bring one everywhere it went.
First unveiled at St Louis’ Lambert Airport after storms destroyed the permanent hangar the Solar Impulse was scheduled to use, the giant inflatable cocoon measures 88m long, 32m wide and has 11m tall ceilings at its highest point. Weighing in at 3500kg it’s not the easiest thing to move, but it takes just 12 people a few hours to deploy.
To protect the Solar Impulse, which is very susceptible to damage from inclement weather, the portable hangar is waterproof, fireproof, and it can withstand winds up to 100km/h. But the material it’s made from is still translucent enough to allow sunlight to shine through and charge the plane’s batteries. It’s not the first portable hangar — they’ve been used since World War I to allow advancing forces to quickly claim and setup makeshift airports for aerial attacks. But the technology and engineering behind this one is almost as impressive as the Solar Impulse itself.