Over 30 French college students have collaborated to design the world’s first solar-powered blimp, Nephelios. One hundred years after the first flight across the English Channel by Louis Blériot, Nephelios will undertake an English Channel crossing in late August.

Sol’R is a collaborative project between engineering and business students from ESSEC Business School, the Institut National des Sciences Appliquées, the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Arts et Métiers, and the Ecole Polytechnique Féminine, with the objective of designing and creating the first solar-powered blimp in the world. The students have been working on Nephelios for more than a year.

The ecological aircraft has the latest-generation, semi-flexible photovoltaic panels installed on its top side. The collected solar energy drives an electric motor situated behind the steering pod, which is equipped with two twin-bladed propellers. Nephelios measures 72 feet long and 18 feet in diameter, and has an average speed of 25mph. The project's technical teams hope that the aircraft becomes a benchmark in terms of self-sufficiency and maneuverability.

Arnaud Vaillant, an MBA student at ESSEC and one of three initiators of the Sol'R project said, "In the near future we would like Nephelios to be used for scientific missions and surveillance. In the longer term and after improvements, the airship will also have applications in the transport of freight, aerial observation, tourism, and telecommunications.


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