Flying 40,000 Km with the energy of the sun for a cleaner future
On Friday, July 29, 2016, pioneer pilots Bernard Piccard and Andre Borschberg and the whole Solar Impulse team converged in the Principality, site of their mission control center, with a reception at the Yacht Club of Monaco, to rejoice in the success of their epic adventure that marks just the beginning of bigger challenges in their plight to promote clean technologies for a better world. They flew a total of 40,000 Km without fuel!
Flying over the legendary pyramids of Egypt for the final leg
Bertrand Piccard took off from Cairo, Egypt on July 24 flying over the legendary pyramids and landed in Abu Dhabi after two days and two nights, for the final leg of the first ever round the world solar flight without one drop of gasoline, using the energy of the sun.
After a total of 23 days of flight and 43.041 km travelled in a 17-leg journey, Si2 can proclaim their mission accomplished, with the team in the Monaco Mission Control Center, in the presence of the Minister of State Serge Telle, bursting in applause!
Final leg flight report:
- Leg 17 – Cairo International Airport, (Egypt) to Al Bateen Executive Airport, (Abu Dhabi)
- Pilot: Bertrand Piccard, Initiator, Chairman, and pilot of Solar Impulse
- Take-off: 1:28 am local time Cairo, Egypt on 24 July 2016 (23:28 UTC on 23 July 2016)
- Landing: 4:05 am local time Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on 26 July 2016 (2:05 UTC on 26 July 2016)
- Flight time: 48 hours and 37 minutes
- Maximum altitude: 28’000 feet (8’534 m)
- Average speed: 34.5 mph (55.40 km/h)
- Flight distance covered: 2’694 km (1’674 miles)
It was back in 2015 when the attempt of the First Round-The-World Solar Flight started, from Abu Dhabi to Hawaii, already achieving the longest solo solar flight ever achieved in aviation history. In 2016, Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, the two Pilots and Founders, completed the first circumnavigation of the globe with no fuel. With their solar aircraft, a cleantech flying laboratory, they flew 40,000 km to promote the use of renewable energies and energy efficiency on the ground, for a better quality of life. Across the Round-The-World flight, the team overcame technical, human and operational challenges that had never been faced before.
Solar Impulse 2
It’s Solar Impulse 2’s elegance that makes it stand out from other airplanes at first sight. Its whiteness, diaphanous skin, huge wings, smooth lines, and utter silence as it rises in the sky. You may find it looks more like a gigantic bird than a flying machine. And being one of a kind has allowed it to become the “first” in many regards. The first airplane to have the wingspan of a Boeing 747 and the weight of a family car. The first to fly for several days and night non-stop without a drop of fuel. The first solar plane to cross the Pacific and Atlantic, the two biggest oceans in the world.
But when you dig deeper, you realize that Si2 is not only special on the surface, but also on the inside. Under its beautiful appearance lies a complex mind, made up of a wide array of clean technologies cleverly assembled by our engineering team led by André Borschberg.
- Four energy-efficient electric engines improved with an additive by Solvay which decreases friction and thus allows an energy efficiency of 97% compared to 30% for normal thermal motors
- Four energy-dense batteries upgraded with a special binder by Solvay which reduces their weight while increasing their energy density and the number of charge and discharge cycles they can withstand
- 17,248 ultralight efficient solar cells made by Sunpower that convert solar energy into electricity with an efficiency of 22.7%, compared to 16% for regular cells. They’re 135 microns thick, like a human hair, which makes them ultralight
A protective transparent resin developed by Solvay which covers the solar cells and protects them from harsh weather. It is UV resistant, waterproof and only 17 microns thin, so barely weighs anything.
- Intense and lightweight LEDs which have an incredible “watt to weight” ratio and are used to illuminate the landing area brilliantly at night. They are protected by the same resilient plastic found in Omega’s watches
- Ultra-lightweight high-density thermal insulation foam provided by Solvay and Covestro to insulate the cockpit and gondolas and thus protect the pilot and batteries from extreme temperatures. The foam’s pores are 40% smaller than usual, rendering it more rigid and strong while keeping it lightweight
- Smart energy dispatcher systems developed by Omega which optimize the energy use on the plane and make use of bi-directional functionality to ensure that either battery can support the other on the same wing in the event that one engine fails
Composite materials, such as carbon fiber, engineered by Solvay, North TPT and Decision to lighten many parts of the plane. The carbon “bee-nest” structure used to build the spar for instance reduced the weight of a layer of carbon material from 80 grams per m² to 25 gram per m² (3 times lighter than paper!)
But Si2 is more than an airplane, it is a message to encourage people to use existing appropriate technologies on the ground to ensure a cleaner future. With them, we could already cut our energy consumption, and thus polluting emissions, by two. Not to mention that they will create jobs and profit for developed and developing countries. The Solar Impulse team wants as many people to hear and spread the message: let’s improve the quality of life of present and future generations without sacrificing our comfort!
A quantum leap into the future
According to Andre Borschberg, who said he had been thinking about how to best leverage the technology and expertise that has been developed at Solar Impulse. Two things are for certain at this point:
The aviation world will become more focused on electric technologies. Think about the efficiency of our electric motors: 97% efficiency which means only 3% energy loss compared to 30% efficiency to 40% energy loss at best for a combustion engine. As we find ways to store electric energy, electric propulsion will increasingly become the norm. I am very happy to see that large groups such as Airbus and NASA are starting to work on electric propulsion. The ball is rolling!
As Solar Impulse 2 has demonstrated that we can reach perpetual flight using the sun as its continued source of energy, we will soon see solar drones flying in the stratosphere.
Solar Impulse is of course very well positioned to contribute to the next generation of unmanned solar airplanes. When considering technological progress today, these unmanned aircrafts will be able to fly much higher than they can today, avoiding air traffic and bad weather. They will be able to fly in extremely low air density and remain in the air both day and night, essentially taking over the need for satellites in a cheaper and more sustainable way. Parallel to SpaceX and Blue Origin, they could be brought down from the stratosphere to perform repairs and upgrades.
Next step making the plane fully autonomous
The Solar Impulse airplane is not ready for retirement after this round-the-world mission. It has been designed to fly a total of 2000 hours. By the end of the mission, we will have only flown 700 hours, and therefore still have 1300 hours remaining. We are, therefore, considering using the plane for further testing on solar technologies with a test pilot to learn how to make the plane fully autonomous.
An airplane of this size and weight flies differently than other types of aircrafts. Finding the right way to make it fully autonomous, especially in turbulent conditions, will be challenging for all companies working on unmanned aircraft. This could potentially require several prototypes until systems can prove they are fully operational and safe.
There are different ways in which we could use Si2 to learn more about the clean technology we have today and take them a step further. We may also continue doing solar flights in different parts of the world to spread the message that we can use clean technology not only in aviation, but on the ground as well. Moreover, we have announced the launch of an International Committee on Clean Technology to continue pushing for more efficient use of technology and to provide guidance to corporations and governments.
The clean future has arrived, join in!
“If an aircraft is able to fly day and night without fuel, propelled only by solar energy, let no one claim that it is impossible to do the same thing for motor vehicles, heating and air-conditioning systems, and computers. This project voices our conviction that a pioneering spirit with political vision can together change society and bring about an end to fossil fuel dependency.” Bertrand Piccard