Solar Adventurer Aiming High for the Heavens

What do you do after spending a year and a half sailing across the world in a monstrous solar paneled sailboat? Well if you are Raphaėl Domjan, you convert your boat yard into an air hanger. Then use similar solar panels to power a glider-like airplane, the Solar Stratos, with plans to climb 82,000 feet into the stratosphere. This month the group reached another yet milestone in their endeavor, which they hope to complete in 2019.

Domjan previously ignored boating experts and built the Planet Solar and sailed around the world in 1½ years with a four-man crew. The catamaran sailboat had 5,780 square feet of solar panels and was 114 feet long and 75 feet wide, but with only a draft of 5 feet. After finishing his voyage in 2012, he shifted gears and aimed for the heavens.

Raphaël Domjan

Raphaël Domjan / Eco-Adventurer and Pilot

Domjan has flown since age 15 and earned a glider license when he was 17. He’s teamed up with Bertrand Piccard, who recently flew the Solar Impulse around the globe, solely using solar-charged batteries. Piccard currently holds the altitude record for a solar flight at 29,862 feet.

This plane is shaped like a 2-seat glider with a length of 28 feet and an enormous 81-foot wing span holding 237 square feet of solar panels. The batteries will power a 32-watt electric motor to provide power to the propeller. The plane weighs 992 pounds and as Domjan explains, every gram of weight will reduce his maximum altitude by three feet. That explains his diet to drop 20 pounds from his own body weight.

To cut weight, the plane is not pressurized and pilots will use space suits to maintain the pressure when so high up, with temperatures reaching 70-90F degrees below zero. The plane will be in the air for over five hours to reach the stratosphere. Domjan expects the project will cost $10 million dollars and already has obtained half of that financing.

solarstratos first air test 05-05-2017

On May 5, 2017, the Solar Stratos, piloted by test pilot Damian Hischier took off on their first maiden voyage. Extensive testing and training will occur before Domjan will try to shatter the altitude record. The team has four pilots that will work on the flights.

As for future plans, Domjan is already working on a project to skydive out of this same plane. Raphaėl Domjan – definitely moving the needle!

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Mark C. Bach is a well preserved automotive junkie, due to the Arizona dry heat. He loves anything that moves and is especially fond of muscle cars and classics.