Solar Impulse, the world’s first intercontinental solar energy powered aircraft, finally touched down last month in Abu Dhabi after completing a round the world flight. The flight took more than a year to complete, after originally taking off from Abu Dhabi in March, 2015.
The 2.3 tonne aircraft was piloted by Swiss adventurer Bertrand Picard and his associate André Borschberg, another Swiss adventurer, businessman and pilot. They managed to spend 23 days of actual flight time in the air by alternating piloting the craft, which has a wingspan of 72 meters (236.22 ft). Powered by 72,000 solar cells, the flight was challenged by adverse weather conditions, over heating storage batteries, and extreme cases of fatigue due to having to fly in a cramped, single seat cabin. But it was a landmark moment for history.
Solar Impulse 2 is a similar version of the previous solar powered plane, Solar Impulse, that made history when it flew a non-stop flght from Madrid, Spain to Rabat, Morroco and back again in July, 2012. This flight, part of which occurred during the night, helped to show that solar powered flight is possible under the right conditions. The Solar Impulse 2 flight, which also included night flying, often flew at an altitude of up to 29,000 feet during the daytime and glided at a lower altitude of 5,000 feet during the night to save energy.
The last leg of the journey, from Cairo to Abu Dhabi, was especially difficult due to a large amount of air turbulence: “It was very inspiring though as I neared my final destination, knowing this had been accomplished without the use of conventional fuel” says Picard.
Before the Solar Impulse project began, Picard, together with another adventurer, Brian Jones, made history by being the first persons to fly around in earth in a high altitude balloon. This journey, in March, 1999, lasted 19 days, 21 hours and 55 minutes.
The Solar Impulse 2 journey was plagued with difficulties: financial ones as well as mechanical difficulties. These included having to be grounded in Hawaii during the winter of 2015 to 16 because of overheating batteries. Flying the plane was often extremely difficult due to the cramped flight cabin and not having heating or pressurization. The single pilot seat also had a built-in toilet.
Despite these difficulties the flight gave the men a great sense of achievement of flying around the earth, powered only by the sun: “Now I really want to leverage this demonstration and create a world council for clean technologies,” says Picard, who hopes this feat will help bring the contribution of alternative energy to help combat the ravages of climate change.
“This is a historic day for humanity,” said UN Secretary Ban K. Moon.
Indeed says Green Prophet!
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