As of posting time for this story, pilot André Borschberg had been flying for over 24 hours on Leg 7 (of 12) of the Solar Impulse 2 trip around the planet. He’s completed about a quarter of his journey from Nanjing to Hawaii, the longest segment of this record-shattering expedition. And it’s all made possible by the energy of the sun.His flight set off on Saturday, May 30th at 18:39 URC in the first oceanic segment of the solar flight. He is flying at 5900 feet, over the middle of the Sea of Japan, north of Osaka.
Green Prophet was there in Abu Dhabi when Borschberg and his co-pilot Bertrand Piccard held their pre-flight press conference as part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week in January. On March 9, the experimental flying lab better known as Solar Impulse 2 took off from Abu Dhabi set to circumnavigate the world flying both day and night without using a single drop of fossil fuel. The flight should take about four months.
But where is their audience?
The Solar Impulse 2 website is remarkably interactive. There is data on every aspect of the flight, constantly updated. See pilot information (below) detailing time since take-off, his current activity (resting, yoga, indulging in some self-hypnosis), and even a metric on how much food he’s burning through.
Click on tabs to bring up screens that imitate the cockpit controls (and track speed, altitude, heading and angle of bank); energy (see the energy chain from sun-to-solar generators through the batteries to and to the motors. Track sun or batteries energy generation versus aircraft energy consumption with time series data); and flight data for this specific leg and the overall journey.
Other features include live YouTube feeds from the Mission Control Center in Monaco and more astoundingly, from the cockpit, which offer us a real-time copilot vantage point, virtually riding along on this epic flight.
The latest feeds indicate that Borschberg is experiencing difficulty resting well due to some turbulence. Mission Control crew are continuously at his side, providing him with both human and technical support. Borschberg reported that on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being ‘not tired’ and 5 ‘very tired’, he would rate his current state a “2”, adding, “To succeed in this long duration flight we have to partner airplane and pilot. Energy for the airplane and good rest for me.’
Solar Impulse climbs up to more than 8,000 meters during the day while charging its batteries, and then glides through the night, relying on electrical energy gathered during the previous day, until the sun comes back in the morning.
The batteries, where solar energy is stored during the day, have been powering the plane. They are at 95% of their maximum state of charge and their level should reduce to 85% in the next hour. Mission Control stated, “The moment of truth of the first night is getting closer: will André be able to reach the sun early enough before batteries are empty? Will #Si2 be able to climb up again and recommence the cycle by starting collecting solar energy again?”
That question turned me into a white-knuckle reader. I quickly checked back to the cockpit video, and see the sun is rising over the Pacific. Disaster averted! But I notice that fewer than 5,000 other people are glued to the live drama. Where is the audience?
Aside from rigorously testing the new technologies that are making the flight possible, this solar circumnavigation is also a symbol of the cleaner future the team is working towards, a demonstration of how pioneering spirit, innovation and clean technologies can change the world.
Everyone is encouraged to take part, by interacting with their website, and by signing up to their #paperplane campaign to keep the #futureisclean message flying around the world. Additionally, we are invited to send messages to show world leaders how we care about clean tech solutions, messages which will be taken to the United Nations Climate Conference (COP21) in Paris in December.
Find more information and track progress on the Solar Impulse 2 website – link here. Let’s all be the audience for the remaining five legs of this journey.