Solar Impulse looks set to go down in history
Last November we reported on plans to fly a solar powered airplane on an epic trip around the world. The team behind Solar Impulse aimed to start their trip on 1st March 2015, but adverse weather conditions meant delaying the adventure until today. Solar Impulse flew out of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates at 7.12 this morning, beginning a long journey set to last five months. The first leg to Muscat, Oman, was a 250-mile journey which took 13 hours. In total, the entire round-the-world trip is expected to last over 500 hours and cover a distance of over 22,000 miles.
The plane runs only on solar power only, and can fly day and night without a drop of fuel (even for days at a time). It has the wingspan of a jumbo jet, but weighs about the same as a family car. Solar Impulse has been flying for over five years now, and to go down in history as the first ever green aircraft to circumnavigate the globe would be just one more record-breaking achievement for the team behind this vision.
Pilot Andre Borschberg, along with psychiatrist and aeronaut Bertrand Piccard (both Swiss) were ridiculed by the aviation industry when they first unveiled their plans. Borschberg is an ex fighter pilot and Piccard was the first person to circumnavigate the world in a hot air balloon in 1999. He claims his passion for renewable energy can make the impossible possible. Already the two men have demonstrated the exciting potential of clean energy (and Switzerland is so proud, the government have just commissioned a silver coin to mark this historic achievement).
The men have trained hard for this world-first, even learning meditation techniques which allow them to sleep for short periods but wake up feeling refreshed. There is an option to turn on autopilot mode, but it’s doubtful they will be getting any sleep at all during a later leg of the trip: a long and grueling flight over the Pacific Ocean from China to the USA. This will mean a six-day stint without landing, in a very cramped cabin traveling as high as 27,000 feet at 30 to 60 miles per hour.
Borschberg and Piccard will take turns flying the plane, which doesn’t have a big enough cockpit for two. The pilots will be linked to a control center in Monaco where 65 weathermen, air traffic controllers and engineers will be stationed. A team of 65 staff will travel on the ground with Solar Impulse as it crosses India, China and the USA. It will then return to its starting point of Abu Dhabi via southern Europe or northern Africa, depending on weather conditions at the time. The second leg of the flight is due to depart for Ahmedabad, India, at 6 a.m. in Oman tomorrow.
The project is sponsored by Google, along with Zurich-based ABB Ltd., the largest maker of devices that convert solar energy into electricity, and Masdar, a the renewables unit of Abu Dhabi’s state investment company Mubadala. The plane’s journey can be tracked here. The video below is from Solar Impulse’s YouTube channel and features full documentary-length footage of the plane‘s journey and all the events of the first day.
A live stream of the flight can also be viewed here: