- For the first time in history a solar-powered plane will attempt to fly around the world without using a single drop of fossil fuel.
- Solar Impulse 2 will take off from Abu Dhabi on 1st March 2015.
- The aircraft is the result of 12 years of research and development.
Solar Impulse, A Project with Two Pioneering and Innovative Pilots
Bertrand Piccard, founder and president of Solar Impulse, was the first person to make a non-stop flight around the world in a hot-air balloon. The Swiss psychiatrist and balloonist comes from a family of well-known explorers. André Borschberg, CEO of the company and an expert fighter-plane and helicopter pilot, is an engineer with a Master’s in Management Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Both want to demonstrate how a spirit of adventure combined with innovation and clean technologies can make a future in which we don’t depend on fossil fuels a reality. Piccard and Borschberg are not alone: they work with a team of 90 people, including engineers, technicians and mission controllers, and have the financial and technological support from over a hundred partners and advisers.
Solar Impulse 2 is the result of 12 years’ hard work. While it is not the first solar plane, it is the first to be absolutely energy efficient, designed to cross oceans and continents, by day or by night, without depending on any fuel.
The official presentation of the plane took place in April 2014 in Switzerland, at an event presided over by Prince Albert of Monaco, the Swiss Minister of Defence, Ueli Maurer, and representatives from Bayer, Solvay, Omega, Schindler and ABB, some of the project’s corporate sponsors, as well as Google, Altran, Swisscom, Solar Impulse Masdar and Moët Hennessy.
The aircraft has a 72-metre wingspan and is made of ultra-light materials: despite having the dimensions of a large commercial plane, it only weighs about the same as a car. The 17,000 photovoltaic cells on the wings harness energy during sunlight hours to power the plane’s four electric motors. Solar Impulse 2 can reach a maximum height of 8,500 metres and a velocity of 140 km/h.
The pilots have spent months learning relaxation and hypnosis techniques in order to develop the stamina required to travel 35,000 kilometres over five months. When they cross the oceans, they will take shifts of five days and five nights each with only 20-minute sleep breaks. The plane’s cockpit is equipped to monitor their vital signs and facilitate the intake of special foods.
The Journey: A Challenge Which Goes Beyond the Worldwide Trip
On 20th January the project team gave a press conference to officially announce the details of Solar Impulse 2’s route, which has 12 stops. The plane will depart from Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, on 1st March 2015 and will land at the same airport at the end of July or beginning of August 2015. The route includes stops in Muscat, Oman; Ahmedabad and Varanasi, India; Mandalay, Myanmar; and Chongqing and Nanjing, China. After crossing the Pacific Ocean via Hawaii, Solar Impulse 2 will fly over the United States, stopping in Phoenix and New York. The aircraft is also expected to stop somewhere in the Middle East before landing in Europe or North Africa after crossing the Atlantic. (Watch the video, which explains some of the technical challenges and the preparatory tests.)
During the presentation, Bertrand Piccard stated that if the flight is successful, that will be a minor triumph: the grand project will then be to demonstrate that a future can be created in which we don’t endanger any species through the use of the most innovative clean technologies. “You can achieve miracles with renewable energies and clean technologies. Today we already have enough clean technologies to halve global fuel consumption,” he explained in an inspiring speech.