The most perilous leg of the round-the-world solar flight achieved!
In the wee hours of the morning, precisely at 6:15 Hawaii time (UTC-10), of Thursday, April 21, 2016, inaudible and powered by the energy of the sun, Solar Impulse 2 (Si2) took off to complete the crossing of the Pacific. This was one of the most perilous legs of the journey because of the lack of emergency landing sites. Another important step of the Round-The-World Solar Flight has been successfully achieved. The team at the mission control center located in the Auditorium Rainier III in the heart of the Principality of Monaco, gave the “go ahead” for the departure.
Si2, the solar airplane of pioneer Swiss pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, capable of flying day and night powered only by the energy of the sun, was in the air during Earth Day on April 22, a powerful symbol.
After 62 hours, pilot Bertrand Piccard touched down on the Moffett Airfield in Mountain View, California, on Saturday, April 23 at 23:44 local time (6: 44 UTC, 8:44 CET on Sunday, April 24). When pilot Bertrand Piccard reached the Moffett runway, he jokingly told the Capcom, “ I could continue all the way to New York!” Before landing Piccard did a fly-by over the Golden Gate Bridge. “I crossed the bridge. I am officially in America,” he affirmed.
History in the making – From Amelia Earhart to Bertrand Piccard
When Bertrand Piccard took off from Hawaii to North America, it was a journey similar to the one of American aviator Amelia Earhart, who set off from Honolulu for the first solo flight to California. Despite the many parallels between these flights, one significant difference remains: while Earhart’s airplane took off carrying more than 500 gallons of gasoline, Si2 flies with no fuel. Across the main wing, fuselage and horizontal stabilizer, 17’248 solar cells power the four lithium batteries, which in turn power the four motors and propellers, allowing Si2 to fly through the night towards the next dawn.
“During my round the world balloon flight in 1999, the seven days I spent over the Pacific were the most nerve-wrecking and thrilling,” said Bertrand Piccard, Initiator and Chairman of Solar Impulse, currently at the controls of the solar airplane. “With Solar Impulse the flight should last for three days, but this time I am alone in the cockpit, so the intensity is no less important. Every morning you have the suspense of knowing how much energy is left in your batteries. Then, with the sunrise comes the virtuous circle of perpetual flight.”
After his record breaking non-stop balloon flight around the world, Bertrand Piccard, a medical doctor and explorer at heart, decided that the next time he would circumnavigate the globe it would be with no fuel. He teamed up with André Borschberg, an innovation savvy entrepreneur and expert aviator. It was Borschberg who in July 2015, landed Si2 in Hawaii after a record breaking flight of five days and nights and around 8,900km from Japan. With the completion of the Pacific crossing by Bertrand Piccard, Si2 will not only be marking a first in the history of aviation, but also in the history of renewable energy.
“Last year we demonstrated that Solar Impulse is capable of flying five days and five nights non-stop: the airplane, the technologies, the human being,” commented André Borschberg, CEO and Pilot of Solar Impulse. “Now what we want to do is continue our flight around the world and demonstrate that these technologies can be used, not only in an airplane, but on the ground. That is why Bertrand initiated the project and I am moved that he will be experiencing full day and night cycles without any fuel.”
Both men take turns piloting Si2 around the world, but have different respective roles within the project – while Piccard outlines the project’s vision, philosophy and political reach and brings together the partners to fund this adventure, Borschberg pulled together the team that designed and constructed Si2 and drives the airplane’s technological innovations into new engineering solutions. Together the two Swiss pioneers are attempting the first Round-The-World Solar Flight with no fuel, to support concrete actions for sustainability and demonstrate that the world can be run on clean technologies.
Chatting with Ban Ki-moon from cockpit during Climate Change Agreement signing
Bertrand Piccard spoke with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon directly from the cockpit of Solar Impulse 2 while flying over the Pacific Ocean during a videoconference on Friday, April 22, from the United Nations in New York where 175 nations had just signed the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
“You know, Mr Secretary-General, what you are doing today in New York by signing the Paris Agreement is more than protecting the environment – it is the launch of the clean revolution,” said Piccard from the solar airplane that is currently flying over the Pacific Ocean without using a single drop of fuel. He urged Ban Ki-moon and the delegates to keep working hard to overcome resistance to fighting climate change. “If an airplane like Solar Impulse 2 can fly day and night without fuel, the world can be much cleaner.”
“I am inspired by your pioneering spirit,” the Secretary-General said after telling Piccard he looked like an astronaut flying to the moon. “While you are making history flying around the world, we also are making history today. More than 175 countries signed the Climate Change Agreement. Thank you for your leadership and inspiration. We wish you a smooth flight. You are leading us into a new era. Bon voyage!”
About Solar Impulse
Swiss pioneers Bertrand Piccard – Initiator and Chairman – and Andre Borschberg– CEO and Co-Founder – are the pilots and driving force behind Solar Impulse, the first airplane able to fly day and night without a drop of fuel, propelled solely by the sun’s energy. Supported by Main Partners Solvay, Omega, Schindler, ABB, and Official Partners Google, Altran, Covestro, Swiss Re Corporate Solutions, Swisscom and Moët Hennessy, they are attempting the first Round-The-World Solar Flight with Solar Impulse 2 (Si2), demonstrating that clean technologies can achieve the impossible.
Si2 is a concentration of clean technologies – a genuine flying laboratory. It is a single-seat aircraft made of carbon fiber that has a 72m / 236ft wingspan (larger than a Boeing 747) for a weight of 2300kg / 5100lb (the equivalent of an empty family car). The 17,248 solar cells built into the wing power the four batteries (38.5kWh per battery) that in turn power the four electric engines (13.5kW / 17.5hp each) and the propellers with renewable energy. The plane is therefore capable of saving a maximum amount of energy during the day and flying throughout the night on batteries. Si2 requires zero fuel and has virtually unlimited autonomy: theoretically, Si2 could fly forever and is only limited by the pilot’s sustainability.
- Maximum speed: 80 km/h
- Cruising speed: 70 km/h
- Mass: 1,600 kg
- Length: 22 m
- Plane wings are equipped with 17,000 solar cells to power propellers and charge batteries
- Constructor: Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne
- Engine type: Electric machine
- First flight: December 3, 2009
The project that began in 2002, is estimated to cost more than € 80 million, and its goal is to create awareness on the importance of renewable energy and innovation. “It is not only a question of being ecological but logical,” Said Piccard while flying over the Pacific. Different countries welcome Si2 for diverse reasons, in America because they are innovators, in China because they need cleaner air. They are all good reasons and in the end clean technology will replace the old ones. Piccard wishes to form a Federation to unite associations from all over the world and share intelligence to transform the world together. The pioneer pilot believes innovation is necessary in search for better quality of life, clean technologies. Maybe one day his dream will come true and all airplanes will have electric engines that produce energy from the sun. I certainly believe it will happen!
In route to Phoenix in the heart of the Sonora dessert
Swiss pilots Piccard and Borschberg have been switching places at the command of Si2 on the around-the-world odyssey, starting back in March 2015 in Abu Dhabi, UAE, and then making stops in Oman, Myanmar, China, Japan and Hawaii before just reaching California. The plan is to complete the round the world trip in 12 stages and 25 actual days of flight. On the left is the Si2 round-the-world itinerary, courtesy of Mehdi Benyazzar pour Sciences et Avenir.
Tuesday, April 26, 2016, if weather permits, Solar Impulse 2 will fly towards Phoenix, capital of Arizona, with the objective of rejoining New York before the end of May, then cross the Atlantic in June to arrive to Abu Dhabi and complete the world tour, powered by the energy of the sun. Yes, you can do it!
“In the 21st century, I think the heroes will be the people who will improve the quality of life, fight poverty and introduce more sustainability”. Bertrand Piccard