Pilots Fly Solar Impulse 2 Around the World, Break Ground for Innovation

Aug 30, 2016 | Technology

Solar Impulse 2

Image source: Solar Impulse


25,000 miles. No fuel. 15 months. The first solar-powered flight around the world in the Solar Impulse 2 is being hailed as an “innovation in energy” in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article.

The cost of innovation

17,248 solar cells powered the Solar Impulse 2 during 500 flight hours. At times, it was a dangerous journey. The longest leg of the trip, from Nagoya, Japan, to Kalaeloa, Hawaii, was more than 117 hours (five days and five nights) over the Pacific Ocean. The pilot of that leg, Andre Borschberg, flew more than 5,500 miles alone. He slept only in short naps and did yoga and meditation to keep his head clear.

That stretch of the 17-leg journey cost Borschberg and his partner, Bertrand Piccard, a 10-month delay in their solar flight around the world. According to Brent Bambury’s Day 6 article, the long flight caused damage to the batteries used to store solar energy and Borschberg and Piccard had to raise more than $20 million to complete the necessary repairs and return to their trip around the world.

The lessons learned in this flight were many, but, according to the Solar Impulse Adventure page, among them is that overnight flight powered by solar energy is completely possible. The specially designed plane had a 236-foot wingspan, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article, making it wider than the wingspan of a 747, according to the Day 6 article. That was necessary to accommodate the solar cells to generate enough energy for the overnight flight period.

A problem-solving mission

The plane also needed to be lightweight. In the end, it weighed about the same as a family sedan. All of these factors combined could well shuttle in a new era in airplane design: One that takes into consideration the ability to use sustainable solar power and new techniques for building lighter aircraft.

While the team set records during this amazing flight, that they also designed, built, and piloted the Solar Impulse 2 is even greater. Piccard puts it best on the Solar Impulse Adventure page:

“Solar Impulse was not built to carry passengers, but to carry messages. We want to demonstrate the importance of the pioneering spirit, to encourage people to question what they’ve always taken for granted. The world need[s] to find new ways of improving the quality of life. Clean technologies and renewable forms of energy are part of the solution.”

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