The First Solar-Powered Airplane to Fly Around the World – Day & Night

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“Solar Impulse is the only airplane of perpetual endurance, able to fly day and night on solar power, without a drop of fuel,” Solar Impulse describes the project on their official website.

“Our challenge is to attempt the First Round-The-World Solar Flight in 2015. A way for Bertrand Piccard, André Borschberg and their team to demonstrate how pioneering spirit, innovation and clean technologies can change the world.”

Today, the first stop in this record-breaking attempt to fly around the world has been reached when the airplane Solar Impulse 2 took off from Abu Dhabi at 3:12 a.m (GMT) and landed in Muscat, capital of Oman, at 4:13 p.m. (GMT).

“I had this dream 16 years ago of flying around the world without fuel, just on solar power. Now, we’re about to do it. The passion is there and I look forward so much to being in the cockpit,” one of the pilots, Bertrand Piccard, told BBC News.

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The Plane
Solar Impulse 2 is a single-seater airplane with a wingspan of 236 ft (72m) and total weight of only 2.3 tons. To put this into perspective, a 747 jumbo jet has maximum takeoff weight of almost 500,000 tons and a wingspan that reaches 196 ft. (60m).

A total of 17,000 solar cells are installed on top of the wings to power the airplane and charge lithium-ion batteries that sustain the aircraft to fly at night.

Solar Impulse 2, as the name implies, is the second iteration of a solar-powered airplane the company has built. Check out the video above to see some spectacular footage of Solar Impulse 1 as well as the preparation and construction of the new aircraft now travelling around the world.

Dübendorf, Switzerland: Solar Impulse team is currently building a second aircraft to fly around the world in stages in 2015. Solar Impulse engineers are assembling the wing, they are mounting the solar pannels on the wing. The final assembly will take place in Payerne (Switzerland) early 2014 and the first test flights of the aircraft will happen over Spring/ Summer 2014 at Payerne airfield. The first round-the- world solar flight is scheduled for 2015.

The Plan
Over the course of the next five months, Piccard and Borschberg plan to cross the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean flying from continent to continent, where the pilots will rest and a crew of engineers will perform maintenance on Solar Impulse 2.

“I am confident we have a very special aeroplane, and it will have to be to get us across the big oceans. We may have to fly for five days and five nights to do that, and it will be a challenge. But we have the next two months, as we fly the legs to China, to train and prepare ourselves,” said Borschberg to BBC News.

To make the full trip around the globe, the following route has been planned:

  1. Abu Dhabi to Muscat
  2. Muscat to Ahmedabad
  3. Ahmedabad to Varanasi
  4. Varanasi to Mandalay
  5. Mandalay to Chongquing
  6. Chongquing to Nanjing
  7. Nanjing to Hawaii
  8. Hawaii to Phoenix
  9. Phoenix to Mid. USA
  10. Mid. USA to New York
  11. New York to Europe / North Africa
  12. Europe / North Africa to Abu Dhabi

To reach the many stops along the way, it will take several days of non-stop flying, which the pilots had to physically and mentally prepare for over the last few months. They will take turns in steering the airplane and are only allowed to take 20 minute naps in between.

The control room is located in Monaco and the mobile crew of engineers will be right on Solar Power 2’s heels.

Here is a video of the landing at the first stop in Muscat:

The Pilots
“Bertrand Piccard, a doctor, psychiatrist, explorer and aeronaut, who made the first non-stop round-the-world balloon flight, is the initiator and chairman,” according to company’s website.

Piccard’s family is not new to pushing boundaries. In fact, Piccard’s father (Jacques) was the first man to reach the deepest place in the ocean in 1960, and Piccard’s grandfather (Auguste) was the first person take a balloon into the stratosphere in 1931, according to BBC News.

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André Borschberg, on the other hand, is “an engineer and graduate in management science, a fighter pilot and a professional airplane and helicopter pilot.” He is the co-founder and CEO of Solar Impulse.

On Solar Impulse 2’s first flight to Muscat, Borschberg was the pilot controlling the airplane when it took off and landed. 

“Solar Impulse is not only about attempting the First Round-The-World Solar Flight, behind the aeronautic record lies a very powerful message Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg want to share with the world. Existing clean technologies and pioneering spirit can change the world. Future is clean, but we cannot do it without you,” Solar Impulse concludes. 

To follow their journey, head over to Solar Impulse’s official website right here.

For their courage, defeating all odds, leading the way into the future of environmentally-friendly travel, and for showing the world what is possible if you believe in your dreams, we name Piccard and Borschberg our Luminaries of the Week.


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