Into The Sun: World First Attempt At Circumnavigating The Globe In A Solar-Powered Plane


They may not be brothers, but the Swiss duo whose solar-powered plane took off from Abu Dhabi this morning to embark on a groundbreaking ‘round-the-world trip say they’re on the Wright side of history.

Betrand Piccard and André Borschberg are undertaking the 35,000 kilometre journey in the ‘Solar Impulse 2’ – the first solar-powered plane capable of flying day and night – to showcase the potential of renewable energy.

“With Solar Impulse, we want to demonstrate how clean technologies can simultaneously protect the environment and create job and profit opportunities, bringing more energy-efficient products on the market," Piccard and Borschberg said in a joint statement.

The high-tech plane is expected to take five months to complete its journey, travelling at speeds of between 50 and 100 kilometres per hour.

For Piccard and Borschberg, who will take turns piloting the single-seat plane, it won’t be a comfortable ride.

"We have an airplane which is fully sustainable in terms of energy, and our challenge now is to make the pilot sustainable as well,” Borschberg said.

The pilot will be squeezed in to a tiny cockpit for up to six days at a stretch, and is expected to face temperatures as high as 40°C, and as low as -40°C. They will sleep for just two or three hours per day in 20 minutes bursts.

With a cosy cockpit of just 3.8 metres squared the reclining pilot’s chair will have to double as a toilet and exercise space.

These cramped conditions are a stark contrast to the plane’s whopping 72-metre wingspan – about the same as a jumbo jet – which is decked out with 17,000 solar panels that will charge lithium batteries weighing 633 kilograms and allow the Solar Impulse 2 to fly at night.

At 2,300 kilograms the carbon-fibre craft weighs about as much as a four wheel drive.

It’s the latest product of Piccard and Borschberg’s 12 years of research, development and testing.

Along with their team of 80 engineers and technicians, the pair have previously broken new ground by flying overnight, between continents and across the United States in other generations of ‘Solar Impulse’ planes.

The Solar Impulse 2 will stop over in Oman, India, Myanmar, China, America, Europe and North Africa as it makes its way around the world over the coming months.

Yesterday, the Solar Impulse projects received international recognition, with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) partnering with the group to advance environmental causes and sustainable development. 

"Solar Impulse has been demonstrating to the rest of the world the power of solar energy through its record-breaking flights across Europe, the Mediterranean Sea and the United States over the last few years," said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

"In doing so, it has been able to effectively bring global attention to the enormous potential of renewable energy and clean technologies in shaping a future where innovation and pioneering ideas thrive, while supporting a healthy planet.”

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