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Solar Impulse deploys inflatable hangar for the first time


June 4, 2013

The inflatable hangar deployed for the first time to house the Solar Impulse in St. Louis (Photo: © Solar Impulse | Ackermann | Rezo.ch)

The inflatable hangar deployed for the first time to house the Solar Impulse in St. Louis (Photo: © Solar Impulse | Ackermann | Rezo.ch)

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Finding hangars to house an aircraft with a wingspan greater than a Boeing 787 Dreamliner is no easy task when planning a round-the-world journey. That’s why the Solar Impulse team designed an inflatable mobile hangar to be used on the Solar Impulse’s planned 2015 circumnavigation of the globe. After a storm damaged the hangar that was to host the solar-powered aircraft at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, the team was forced to deploy the structure for the first time to keep the 2013 Across America mission on schedule.

The light weight of the Solar Impulse aircraft means it is particularly susceptible to damage from adverse weather conditions. Anticipating that it would be unlikely that every airport it will visit on its 2015 mission will be able to provide such protection, the Solar Impulse team devised a hangar they could take with them. The result is an inflatable, modular structure that measures 88 m (289 ft) long, 32 m (105 ft) wide and 11 m (36 ft) high at its tallest point when deployed. That’s enough room to house Solar Impulse, which has a wingspan of 63.4 m (208 ft) and measures 21.85 m (71.7 ft) wide.

The hangar is constructed from a textile material that is strong enough to withstand winds of up to 100 km/h (62 mph), yet is thin enough to be translucent so as to allow sunlight to shine through and charge the aircraft’s batteries. It is also very light for such a large structure, weighing in at 3,500 kg (7,716 lb), which equates to 2 kg per square meter (0.5 lb per sq ft) of ground surface.

Although the hangar is supposed to take 12 people six hours to deploy, the team managed to get it up in a few hours in St. Louis on Monday to house the Solar Impulse after its 21 hour and 21 minute flight from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport with Bertrand Piccard in the pilot’s seat. This was Piccard’s longest flight to date, and longer in duration than the second leg of the mission from Phoenix to Dallas/Fort Worth with André Borschberg, Co-founder and CEO of Solar Impulse at the controls. However, at 1,040 km (646 miles), the distance traveled was well short of that record-breaking flight.

“We brought the inflatable hangar to the USA for testing purposes and in fact it allowed the mission to stay on schedule,” said André Borschberg, Co-founder, CEO and pilot of Solar Impulse. “This exercise is now a proof of concept: rather than taking the airplane to a hangar, we have taken the hangar to the airplane.”

After resting up under the hangar and giving the public a chance to check out the aircraft on open days on Thursday and Friday, the Solar Impulse will continue on to Washington, D.C. before the final leg of the 2013 Across America mission takes it to New York in early July.

Source: Solar Impulse

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

The first photo looks like Moffett Field in the South Bay Area of California. Hangar 2 is the silver green one in the immediate background and Hangar 1 is off in the distance. Does St Louis have hills like that?


This is not really demonstrating the utility of solar-powered flight any more. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Jon A.

The pictures of the hangar with the airplane in it do not make any sense. Does the airplane pull into the hangar or is the hangar inflated over the top of the plane. For the plane to pull into the hangar as shown it would have to move sideways and still only one wing would be under the hangar and the other section of the hangar would need to be brought around and slipped over the other wing and body of the plane.


The photos were indeed taken at the old Moffet Field Naval Air Station, in Sunnyvale, California, south of San Fransico. The hills in the background are the coast range. The base was originaly a US Army air field but was transfered to the Navy.The big hanger, No.1, in the back ground was originaly built to house the dirigible 'Macon', but was never used as the airship crashed in the Pacific Ocean. During WW 2,if was used for free ballons, and blimps, while the other two hangers were built later and used for P2V Neptunes, ASW or Antisub warfare off the coast. Later used by Lockheed which had a factory near by. Also NASA has a facility there, with a large wind-tunnel. I've been there many time, and inside Hanger No.1. It is BIG !!!


Ed. I thought the same, but it appears to me that the hangar is in two to four parts a left and right side that is inflated separately then moved over each wing and taller tail to join in the middle. Only guessing from these photos though. On second thoughts looks modular with 14 components which would be more manageable.


The inflatable hangar was indeed set up, but it was only used temporarily while a more stable tent (think rental company tents, but on a massive scale) was set up. The right half was inflated, the plane moved into it, and then the mid- and front-section pieces were added, respectively, making it look like a giant cocoon. Then, it was disassembled a day or two later and the plane moved into the big tent, which allowed public viewing (and private events). I'm not sure how they're charging the batteries at this point, and it's scheduled to depart early Friday morning. It's an impressive sight up close.

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