A plane powered by the sun recently landed in Hawaii after a record-breaking five-day journey across the Pacific Ocean from Japan. The pilot, Andre Borschberg, and his single-seat aircraft finished the journey and landed at Kalaeloa, a small airport outside Honolulu July 3rd, 2015.
What made the trip such a success? Borschberg’s 118-hour voyage from Nagoya, Japan to Hawaii broke the record for the world’s longest nonstop solo flight, according to his team. Before this, the late U.S. adventurer Steve Fossett set the record at 76 hours when he flew a specially-designed jet around the globe in 2006.
Even cooler, the pilot didn’t use ANY fuel when he flew the Solar Impulse 2. Instead, its wings were equipped with 17,000 solar cells that powered propellers and charged batteries. At night, the plane ran on stored energy.
According to USA Today, the trans-Pacific leg was the riskiest of the plane’s global travels, as there was nowhere for it to land in case of an emergency. Andre piloted it expertly, however, and landed the engineless aircraft in silence at about 6 a.m. early July. About 200 people, including the media, witnessed the touchdown and celebrated his safe return.
The morning after, Borschberg deemed the flight an ‘extraordinary experience,’ saying it marked historical firsts for aviation and for renewable energy.
“Nobody now can say that renewable energies cannot do the impossible,” he said. The most challenging part of the journey was when he and fellow Swiss co-pilot Bertrand Piccard had to decide when exactly to leave Japan.
“You don’t know if it’s feasible. You don’t know if it’s possible. You don’t know if you are going to lose the airplane,” he said.
The planning and care the pilot took to ensure a safe expedition is quite intriguing as well: To counter the extended periods of immobility and stay fit, Borschberg did yoga up to 45 minutes daily. The journey, no doubt, was worth it, as once he did exit the plane, he was greeted by a troupe of young hula performers singing a welcome song in Hawaiian.
The plane’s ideal flight speed is about 28 mph though it can double during the day when the sun is strongest. The carbon-fiber aircraft weights over 5,000 pounds, or about as much as a minion or mid-sized truck.
The project, which started in 2002 and is estimated to cost more than $100 million, is aimed at highlighting the importance of renewable energy and the spirit of innovation.
While solar-powered air travel is not yet commercially practical nor feasible (due to the slow travel time, weather and weight constraints of the plane), the exciting success of this project does inspire hope of more sustainable transportation being utilized in the future.
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