Heroes

Meet the plane that's making its way around the world without using a single drop of fuel.

Modern-day Wright brothers are reinventing what it means to fly.

Meet the plane that's making its way around the world without using a single drop of fuel.

Imagine being able to fly from New York to London without using a single drop of fuel.

It may sound far-fetched, but that's exactly what a group of engineers and pilots are hoping to make a reality — and soon. How? Solar energy.

Meet the Solar Impulse 2, the world's most advanced solar-powered plane.

The single-passenger plane collects solar energy via panels atop its wings, storing that in four batteries located behind the pilot. This allows the plane to fly at night and, in theory, means that as long as the equipment allowed, it could go on flying, well, forever.



A lot has changed in how we've flown over the past several decades, but rarely has there been a shift like this.

Commercial passenger aircraft — which, it needs to be noted, the Solar Impulse 2 is not — have varied in size, shape, and design over time.

From the wide-bodied Boeing 747 to the narrow Boeing 737, dozens of models have rolled out in the post-World War II era, each coming with their own unique features.


The first 747 is unveiled to the public on Sept. 30, 1968. Photo by AFP/Getty Images.

The Solar Impulse 2's 236-foot wingspan is wider than that of the 747, which has a 229-foot wingspan.

While using solar power for large commercial jets would be wonderful, right now creators have more attainable goals.

In most situations, circling the globe would be a monumental accomplishment, but the makers of the Solar Impulse are on pace to making that happen.

In March 2015, pilots took off from Abu Dhabi, making stops in Oman, India, Myanmar, and China.

The team's next goal is to fly from Nanjing, China, to Hawaii. This trip, roughly 4,000 miles, will set new records for the longest distance flown by an electric plane and longest flight duration for a single pilot (over 100 hours).


From there, the team hopes to make a few stops in the U.S. before flying from New York to southern Europe/northern Africa. Then it's back to Abu Dhabi, completing the circuit.

It'll be a long time before us normal folks are able to hop a solar-powered flight, but some groups are looking into the possibility of adding hybrid engines on commercial jets.

In April 2014, Airbus announced plans for a hybrid regional plane with a capacity between 70 and 90 people.

They estimate that this type of aircraft will be ready for commercial use sometime in the next 15 to 20 years. This fuel-saving measure wouldn't have quite as much an impact as going completely solar-powered, but it's certainly a step toward a cleaner, more environmentally friendly mode of travel.

If there's one thing the Solar Impulse team is teaching us, it's that what once seemed impossible is anything but.

Like modern-day Wright brothers, the team over there is reinventing what it means to fly, and maybe within our lifetimes, we'll see some of their concepts being incorporated into mass transit.

Bloomberg put together a short video of the Solar Impulse 2 in action as it makes its way around the world.

Check it out:

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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We know that mammals feed their young with milk from their own bodies, and we know that whales are mammals. But the logistics of how some whales make breastfeeding happen has been a bit of a mystery for scientists. Such has been the case with sperm whales.

Sperm whales are uniquely shaped, with humongous, block-shaped heads that house the largest brains in the animal world. Like other cetaceans, sperm whale babies rely on their mother's milk for sustenance in their first year or two. And also like other cetaceans, a sperm whale mama's nipple is inverted—it doesn't stick out from her body like many mammals, but rather is hidden inside a mammary slit.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less