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Tue, Apr 26, 2016

Solar Flight Anniversary In April

First Solar-Powered Airplane Flew April 29, 1979

With Solar Impulse II safely on the ground at Moffett Field, Mountain View, CA on its circumnavigation of the globe, only a few people remember that April 29 is the 37th anniversary of the first solar-powered airplane flight in history.

On April 29, 1979, Larry Mauro, president of Ultralight Flying Machines, Inc., took his “Solar Riser” to the Regional EAA airshow at Chino. The Solar Riser was a modified version of the UFM Easy Riser, one of the most popular foot-launched hang gliders of its day.

To convert it to solar power, Mauro added a lightweight wheeled landing gear, put several solar panels in the upper wing of the swept-back biplane, and led their output to a small battery from a Hughes 500 helicopter mounted behind the seat, which powered a 3hp electric motor and propeller. The solar cells, which were not the most efficient available even then, could not propel the Solar Riser into the air but in 90 minutes could charge up the battery enough for a flight of several minutes.

It was Mauro’s thought to demonstrate the airplane to the large crowd at the EAA fly-in, but FAA nixed the idea. Mauro took his airplane to nearby Flabob Airport, where owner Flavio Madariaga encouraged innovation, and let aviators do pretty much as they pleased, so long as they didn’t get him into too much trouble. At Flabob, Mauro set up the airplane and made a flight down the runway, up to 40 feet in the air, and about half a mile in length. Compared to the remarkable performance of Solar Impulse II, it was not much, but it was the first solar-powered flight. Mauro was quoted in Mother Earth magazine as saying, “I want to improve this setup until we can regularly take off and fly around all day on nothing but the solar-generated electricity that we're producing as we buzz along." Mauro made one or two further flights before an audience of about two dozen.

The Solar Riser was sent to the EAA Museum, then in Hales Corner, Wisconsin, and after demonstration flights at Oshkosh was added to the permanent collection. Flabob Airport, in Jurupa Valley, California, is now owned by the Tom Wathen Center, and is home to EAA Chapter One. Flabob remains a center of sport and family flying, and is home to an aviation-themed charter high school and a branch of the Spartan College of Aeronautics.

(Source: Flabob Airport news release. Solar Impulse 2 image from file)



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