While it is many years away from testing and developing a solar-powered aircraft, Solar Impulse2’s circumnavigation of the Earth has already broken boundaries and opened the door to the future.
The journey around the Earth lasted 42,000 km in 505 days with an average speed of 70 km / h of the solar plane that made history.
The solar-powered plane has accomplished what many considered impossible, flying over four continents and two oceans without needing a single drop of fuel. The rays of the sun are the only thing that powers this plane.
The Solar Impulse plane is the brainchild of explorer Bertrand Piccard. The idea arose after he made a trip around the Earth continuously in a hot air balloon. During that trip, he observed that the fuel was decreasing day by day. That made him worry that the materials weren’t enough to complete the flight. He wondered if there was a better way and he finally found the answer.
Bertrand Piccard collaborated with Andre Borschberg, an engineer and businessman who trained as a pilot in the Swiss Air Force. Both officially announced the project in 2003. Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg determined: “Once the official announcement, we have no way back. So that’s what we do for the next 13 years.” They contact investors, engineers and industry partners to develop the aircraft. Every component is tested and optimized.
The result of this effort is Solar Impulse 2, a feat of engineering. The plane is equipped with more than 17,000 solar panels, weighs only 2.4 tons with a wingspan of 72m. Each panel is as thin as a human hair, covering the delicate wings and fuselage. The panels are exposed to the sun, fully charged with 4 lithium batteries to keep the propellers active at night.
Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg took turns making the flight. The wings of the aircraft cannot be tilted more than 5 degrees, otherwise the aircraft will lose control because of its large size and too light weight. That also means bad weather or strong winds can easily knock the plane off course.
According to published information, the weather became “the number one enemy” of the whole team, because the plane moved quite “twisted”. During the day, the plane flies to a height of more than 9,000m and has to descend to about 1,500m at night to save energy. The team had to forecast wind, humidity and temperature at multiple altitudes. Weather conditions have caused many flights to be delayed.
Overcoming technological challenges, extreme weather conditions, and “fragile” aircraft that slow down flight speed, the Solar Impulse development team has always maintained a strong belief.
“I never lost faith in what we were doing,” Borschberg said. Something tells me there’s a solution to everything. We need more time, more effort, but we will definitely find a way.”
Finally, the Solar Impulse 2 aircraft piloted by two pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg successfully landed in Abu Dhabi at dawn on July 26, 2016.
The use of solar batteries for aircraft is still limited and takes decades to test and develop to commercial scale. However, by surpassing the limit that no one has yet reached, the Solar Impulse aircraft development team has made important contributions to the aviation industry.
Below are pictures that record the journey around the world marking history and opening a new page for the future of developing renewable energy sources in the aviation field.
On April 23, 2016, Solar Impulse 2 aircraft flew over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco at the end of its journey from Hawaii, part of its attempt to fly around the world. Photo: AP
Engineers work with a 72m-long carbon fiber aircraft scene at the former military airport of Duebendorf, near Zurich, on December 17, 2013. Photo: Getty Images.
Scientist, explorer and pilot Bertrand Piccard sits in a simulated space that closely resembles the cockpit of an actual Solar Impulse aircraft. This is the first phase of a 72-hour non-stop test flight on December 17, 2013. The aim was to give Piccard and pilot Andre Borschberg more experience for their round-the-world flight. Photo: Getty Images.
Solar Impulse 2 is flown out of base by pilot Bertrand Piccard for testing in Payerne, November 1, 2014. Photo: RT
Andre Borschberg (left) and Bertrand Piccard (right) are the founders and pilots of Solar Impulse. They introduced the new Monaco Solar Impulse control center, on February 10, 2015, in Monaco. Photo: Getty Images.
German pilot Markus Scherdel took a test flight with Solar Impulse 2 after its maiden flight in Payerne, Switzerland.
The cockpit of a solar-powered Solar Impulse 2 aircraft, after a training flight at the base in Payerne. Photo: RT
The control center in Monaco on June 1, 2015, when Solar Impulse 2 landed in Japan. Photo: Getty Images.
Pilot Andre Boschberg’s reaction after landing Solar Impulse 2 landing in Muscat on March 9, 2015. Photo: RT.
Solar Impulse food packages are displayed at Nanjing International Airport, China on April 22, 2015. Photo: Getty Images.
A selfie of pilot Bertrand Piccard during the final leg of his round-the-world trip with Solar Impulse 2 on the Arabian Peninsula on July 25, 2016. Photo: RT
The image was taken by Swiss explorer Andre Borschberg aboard Solar Impulse 2 during a flight from Tusla, Oklahoma, to Dayton, Ohio. Below is the Mississippi River at sunset on May 21, 2016. Photo: RT
A man uses his phone to take a photo as Solar Impulse 2 lands at Mandalay International Airport on March 19, 2015. Photo: RT
The Nagano mountain area was taken by Swiss pilot Andre Borschberg from the cockpit of the Solar Impulse 2 plane during the 7th leg of its round-the-world trip. The photo was published by Solar Impulse on June 1, 2015. Photo: RT.
Swiss explorer Andre Borschberg aboard Solar Impulse 2 during a flight from Tusla to Dayton on May 21, 2016. Photo: RT.
Solar Impulse 2 parked in a mobile hangar after, when suddenly landed at Nagoya airport, Japan on June 3, 2015. Photo: RT.
Solar Impulse 2, piloted by Bertrant Piccard, lands in Ahmedabad, India, on March 10, 2015. Photo: Getty Images.
Solar Impulse 2 prepares to take off from Dayton International Airport on May 25, 2016. Photo: Getty Images.
Solar Impulse 2 aircraft flies over the Statue of Liberty before landing at JFK Airport on June 11, 2016 in New York. Photo: Getty Images.
Solar Impulse 2 flies over the pyramids of Giza on July 13, 2016 before landing in Cairo, Egypt. Photo: RT.
An image taken by pilot Bertrand Piccard during his flight over the Red Sea. This was the last leg of the first round-the-world flight without fuel. Photo: Getty Images.
On July 26, 2016, Solar Impulse 2 aircraft landed in Abu Dhabi to end its first round-the-world flight without using fuel. Photo: RT
Solar Impulse 2, at an airport in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, after completing its orbit around the Earth. Photo: RT.