In a remarkable display of the innovative spirit of aviation and the potential of clean technologies, the solar-powered Solar Impulse 2 touched down at Moffett Airfield in Mountain View, California, last week. Pilot Bertrand Piccard landed the single-pilot plane on April 23, after taking off from Hawaii 62 hours after earlier.
The journey of the Solar Impulse 2 began in March 2015, when Piccard and fellow pilot AndrÃ© Borschberg—who take turns flying the aircraft—set off on their attempt at the first around-the-world solar flight. Originating in Abu Dhabi, the Solar Impulse 2 has touched down in Oman, Myanmar, China and Japan, breaking records along the way. The riskiest part of the trip, due to lack of emergency landing sites, was the Japan-Hawaii leg, but it became the longest duration and the longest distance of a solo solar flight in aviation history—4 days, 21 hours, 52 minutes, covering 8924 km—and it was the longest nonstop solo pilot flight of any kind. Hawaii-California was the ninth leg of the flight.
Built mainly of carbon fiber, the experimental aircraft is equipped with some 17,000 solar cells on its wings that recharge four lithium polymer batteries to power its propellers. Those wings are wider than those of a Boeing 747. The Solar Impulse 2 weighs just over 5,000 pounds, nearly 200 times lighter than a 747. Max speed isaround 90 km/h (49 kts), when the sun’s rays are at their strongest.The plane runs on stored energy overnight.
Based in Switzerland, Solar Impulse is the company behind the aircraft, and its mission is to promote the use of renewable energies and energy efficiencies. Swiss founders Piccard and Borschberg are the company visionaries, though the project is a multicultural one, with partners and patrons from all over the world. In fact, the story goes back much further. Solar Impulse Chairman Piccard, a medical doctor specializing in psychiatry, an explorer and an aeronaut, can trace his innovative spirit to his grandfather Auguste and father Jacques, who were pioneering explorers. Borschberg, the company’s cofounder and CEO, is an engineer, a fighter pilot and a professional airplane and helicopter pilot. The beginnings of the project go back to 2009, and Solar Impulse 1 took its first European test flight in 2010.
There have been challenges along the way—battery damage requiring significant repairs, a damaged wing and unfavorable weather—but what Solar Impulse has already accomplished is astonishing.
The next stop for Solar Impulse 2 is in the Midwest, followed by a stop in New York, a crossing of the Atlantic and a stop in Southern Europe or Northern Africa, before completing its journey in Abu Dhabi.
Learn more at solarimpulse.com.