The World’s First ‘Perpetual Endurance’ Solar Plane Will Launch This Month to Circle the Globe UPDATED
Wider than a 747, as light as a car, and able to fly–day or night—without a drop of fuel
image via youtube screen capture
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It has a wingspan wider than a 747 and weighs about as much as a car, but it’s not its extreme size vs. weight construction that sets the Solar Impulse 2 apart: It’s the 17,000 sunlight-sensitive cells built into the plane’s wings, creating what is being called “the only airplane of perpetual endurance, able to fly day and night on solar power, without a drop of fuel.” And to prove its green-energy prowess, the Solar Impulse 2 is preparing to take off on a five-month long global tour to become the first solar powered airplane to circle the planet. With a tentative launch date of March 9th, following an aborted attempt this past week, the SI2’s flight team is in Abu Dhabi, readying themselves for a trip that might one day lead to a new paradigm for all forms of air travel.
Over the past decade, the Solar Impulse team has broken a number of world records with their prototype plane, the appropriately named “Solar Impulse 1,” including having been the first solar powered aircraft to fly between two continents overnight, as well as the first to cross the United States. Bolstered by those successes Solar Impulse’s co-founders Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg plan to spend the coming year leap-frogging from city to city on their “RTW” (“’round the world”) flight. At each stop, the plane will reportedly be housed under a massive, custom-built mobile hanger to protect it from the elements while grounded. From the Solar Impulse website:
Si2 will take-off from Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirate, in late February or early March and return by late July or early August 2015. The route includes stops in Muscat, Oman; Ahmedabad and Varanasi, India; Mandalay, Myanmar; and Chongqing and Nanjing, China. After crossing the Pacific Ocean via Hawaii, Si2 will fly across the Continental U.S.A. stopping in three locations – Phoenix, and New York City at JFK. A location in the Midwest will be decided dependent on weather conditions. After crossing the Atlantic, the final legs include a stop-over in Southern Europe or North Africa before arriving back in Abu Dhabi.
To complete their groundbreaking flight, the pilots will take turns flying the plane during different legs of its journey. The SI2’s cockpit, measuring just 3.8 cubic meters, will serve as each pilot’s unheated, non-pressurized home during their respective shifts, each lasting hours, if not days, at a time. Accordingly, one of the major challenges for the flight team has been to create not only a sustainable energy aircraft, but as they describe it, “sustainable pilots” as well. That involves meditation training to help maintain focus during long stretches of flight time, and a highly specialized diet regimen of up to “2.4kg (5.2lbs) of food, 2.5l (84.5oz) of water, and 1l (33.8oz) of sports drink per day" during the longer stretches of the flight. How will the pilots answer nature’s inevitable call during the longer stretches of their trip? To answer that burning question, the team created this cheeky video back in 2013, as plans for their globe-hopping flight were just beginning to take shape.
Regarding how their historic flight might one day change the aviation industry, and its reliance on fossil fuels, Piccard sees the SI2’s role as more inspirational than commercial, explaining to India’s Economic Times “Our primary purpose is not to revolutionize aviation, but the way in which people think about energy and clean technologies.”
Once launched, people can track the SI2’s “RTW” progress through the team’s official twitter account, which features photographs, links, and even illustrated updates of the plane’s progress.
image via twitter.com/solarimpulse
People can also track the plane’s progress, as well as learn more about the technology involved, the cities visited, and the partners making the trip possible, at the Solar Impulse’s website.
UPDATE – 3.10.15: On March 9th, 2015 The Solar Impulse successfully lifted off from its launch point in Abu Dhabi, and concluded the first leg of its global mission in Oman after 12 hours of flight. You can continue tracking the plane’s progress at solarimpulse.com