First attempt to encircle the world in a solar powered aircraft – Monaco site of the mission control center

Mission control center in Monegasque territory

Tuesday, February 10, 2015 was the official inauguration of the Monaco Control Center (MCC) for the first solar flight attempt round-the-world flight by Solar Impulse 2 (Si2). This project is the brainchild of pioneers Swiss pilots Bertrand Piccard Initiator and President of Solar Impulse, and Andre Borschberg, in his capacity of co-founder and CEO. The Government of Monaco committed to support the Solar Impulse initiative by harbouring the mission control center on the 3rd floor of the Auditorium and Congress Center Rainier III, throughout the duration of the world tour, encouraged by the commitment of HRH Prince Albert through his Foundation and the Principality’s continuous allegiance to sustainable development and the promotion of geothermal power.

This historic first initiative to demonstrate that clean technologies can achieve the impossible counts with the support of Main Partners Solvay, Omega, Schindler, ABB, and Official Partners Google, Altran, Bayer Material Science, Swiss Re Corporate Solutions, Swisscom and Moet Hennessy.

Present at the unveiling of the project, Prince Albert declared himself honored to welcome the center in Monaco as he firmly believes “this project is a symbol for sustainable development”. In an interview by Monaco Matin newspaper the Prince was quoted saying: “This is a marvelous adventure and a hope for the future.” The Prince has been invited again to the control center for the flight kick-off scheduled for Sunday, March 1, 2015. He will probably join the pilots at one of the stopovers and surely envisions being present at the final destination after encircling the planet.

The MCC is now up and running for the launch of the world tour, and ready to welcome the team of over 40 people to the state of the art hub conceived for this unique adventure. The personnel will take turns to be in permanent contact with the pilots and the airplane. In the room there are computers and technical devices that allow calculating the flights and the meteorological conditions, plus managing the required authorizations, as the airplane will fly over four continents.

Fed by vision, propelled by passion

The attempt for the first flight around the world impulse solely by solar energy should debut on March 1, 2015, from Abu Dhabi in the Persian Gulf where the airplane is located. Solar Impulse will traverse successively the Arabian Sea, India, Burma, China, the Pacific Ocean, the United States, the Atlantic Ocean, South Europe or North Africa, to loop the loop getting back to the departing point. Stopovers will be done regularly to change pilot and organize public events for Governments, schools and Universities.

Solar Impulse Si2 Route @Solar Impulse archives

Solar Impulse Si2 Route @Solar Impulse archives

To accomplish the flight around the world, Solar Impulse 2 will have to succeed what no other aircraft has done before: fly without any fuel during 5 days and 5 nights straight, in 12 stages depending on the weather, between March and July. to cross the oceans from a one continent to the other. Like in all first intents there are no preliminary references and strategies must be invented from zero. History of aviation will be rewritten, but this time without any fuel.

As expressed by Si2 pilot Andre Borschberg: “Imagine energy reserves that increase during the flight! To succeed in this challenge, it was necessary to use the maximum capacity of each watt put to our disposal by the sun and the stock in our batteries. All the forms of energetic efficiency have been researched. It is in confronting the experiences of each team member and adding their potential that we have found the solutions.” 

Challenge accomplished aboard a simulator

A year ago Piccard and Borschberg succeeded the difficult task but on board a simulator. According to Raymond Clerc, Solar Impulse mission chief: “The simulator plane enabled us to anticipate what could happen. With the different weather conditions, altitudes… We succeeded through the computer to make it in three months and a half, now we have to make it in reality.” Everything started well before the first tests. Since 2006, Piccard and his team already imagined a flight plan. Borschberg explained that they arrived to the conclusion that the departing point should be the Middle East, all climate conditions taken into consideration.

The pioneer pilots

Two male pilots, pioneers and innovators, came together to ensure the development of Solar Impulse. Bertrand Piccard, doctor, psychiatrist, aeronaut, explorer, first to go on a tour around the world in a balloon without scales in 1999, is the initiator and the president. Andre Borschberg, engineer, licensed in management sciences, formed as fighter pilot and professional airplane and helicopter pilot, is the co-founder and CEO. The unconventional vision, and communication qualities of the former, marries perfectly with the entrepreneurial experience and management of the latter. A winning team!

Both pilots have been training rigorously like true extreme sportsmen. They will have to sleep in 20 minutes stages, enough to recover, allowing them to be awake for five hours at a time in a regular rhythm. Besides the conditions on board will be very difficult. According to the pilots: “Everyday it will be like climbing the Everest to 8.500m and coming down at night increasing the pressure, because the plane is not pressurized. The temperatures vary between -20° & +35° in the cockpit and we remain inmobilized.” On the logistics side it will not be simple either, as Solar Impulse will fly over four continents, and apparently everything they request is prohibited! They are in contact with all the aviation authorities and government departments of the countries concerned, but they do not have all the authorizations yet. This proves that pioneers are not afraid of extreme, challenging conditions and never give up till they conquer their dream!

The aircraft

After the original Solar Impulse Si1 prototype which holds 8 world records flying across Europe, Morocco and the USA, engineers have designed and constructed in Payerne, Switzerland, a new single-seat aircraft made of carbon fiber named Si2. A multidisciplinary team consisting of 80 specialists, 90 partners and hundred consultants, worked together during ten years making calculations, simulations, constructions and tests of the first prototype before the launching of the final aircraft Si2, the boldest plane of our times.

  • The largest airplane ever built of such a small weight of 2.300 kg like a regular car, nonetheless with a load factor equal to that of a commercial plane.
  • A span of 72m, larger than a Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet, to minimize the resistance force (Ri) and offer a maximum surface for the solar cells.
  • Maximum power of 70 CV (4 engines of 17,5 CV – Constant velocity), and mean power over 24hs of a small motorcycle, that is 15 CV, after extreme optimization of the whole energetic chain.
  • 17.248 solar cells
  • Maximum cruise altitude 8500 m
  • Minimal speed of 36 km/h at sea level and of 57 km/h at maximum altitude
  • Maximum speed of 90 km/h at sea level and of 140 km/h at maximum altitude

“My life and the life of my family has to do with exploration, with adventure. My grandfather was the first man in the stratosphere, and my father was the first to touch the deepest point in the ocean… For me, adventure and exploration is something in the blood.” Bertrand Piccard.

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