The Right Stuff: Sarasota test pilot pushing the envelope of solar flight – Sarasota Herald-Tribune

SARASOTA — Every few minutes, the roar of Swiss F-18s interrupted a Zoom chat with Sarasota’s most famous test pilot — “Good Lord! We’re being attacked!” — who is on a mission to reduce, and maybe eliminate, fossil fuels from air travel.

A small crowd cheers on the history-making flight of the SolarStratos sun-powered airplane.
Sarasota's Miguel Iturmendi takes a break beside the SolarStratos electric plane in Payerne, Switzerland. [Submitted photo]
Miguel Iturmendi powers the battery-paneled SolarStratos in the skies above Switzerland. [Submitted photo]

And 48-year-old Miguel Iturmendi, best known for his record-setting work with the world’s fastest and highest-flying glider, is confident the revolution will begin in his lifetime.

“There are other electrical airplanes, but none of them go into the stratosphere, and none of them recharge their batteries while they fly,” he says from inside a hangar at Payerne Air Base in western Switzerland. “And none of them come back with more power, with more juice, than when they left the ground.

“Can you imagine that? It blows my mind.”

The ticket: a solar-powered, single-engine airplane whose cartoonish 81-foot wingspan is laden with photovoltaic batteries. They sponge up sunlight, bank its endless photons, and convert their energy into free fuel.

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