Once again Solar Impulse 2, a plane powered by solar energy, has soared into the history books. This summer the experimental aircraft became the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean without using fossil fuels when it flew from New York to Seville, Spain. The trans-Atlantic flight is the fifteenth leg of an attempt to fly Solar Impulse 2 around the world via solar travel.
The transportation industry is the second largest producer of greenhouse gas, so there is a lot of interest in finding low emission, renewable sources of fuel. There has been talk of solar cars, and now Solar Impulse 2 is showing how solar-powered travel works in the real world.
The global trip has hit some bumps along the way, mostly related to weather that the small plane can’t fly in safely.
Solar-powered planes have one big advantage — their fuel comes from the sun, which means they don’t need to stop and refuel on long flights. Rather than weigh the aircraft down with extra solar arrays and heavy batteries, the team behind Solar Implulse 2 opted for a super energy efficient plane that cuts down on the need to store extra power. To keep things as efficient as possible, the plane has room for just one crew member, making those long jaunts a one-pilot job.
“It has been difficult to sleep,” said pilot André Borschberg about the five-day, five-night leg of the trip he flew from Japan to Hawaii. “We have sleeping periods of 20 minutes maximum, but to go into enough of a relaxed mode is difficult. Normally you are told not to sleep when you are a pilot and in a cockpit. Now it is the opposite.”
A Flight with a Mission
Solar Impluse 2 was dreamed up by Swiss pilots and adventurers Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg. Along with making aviation history, the duo are using the global flight to promote and educate people about the benefits and possibilities of solar energy.
“What I’d like to show with my team is that clean technology today is showing incredible goals,” said Piccard, who piloted the trans Atlantic leg of the journey. “You can fly now longer without fuel than with fuel, and you fly with the force of nature, you fly with the sun. It’s the new era now for energy and this is really what we’d like to inspire people to do.”
At each stop along the flight, Solar Impluse 2 has been on display for the public to check out. The team has also published online resources to help everyone from kids to adults better understand how the plane and solar energy work.
Piccard and Borschberg had planned to have completed their 27,000-mile journey by early summer, but things didn’t go quite as planned. The team faced weather delays while flying over China and then had to make an unplanned stop in Japan after the aircraft was damaged in a storm.
Despite the delays, Borschberg and Piccard hope to finish the round the world flight by the fall. Their current plan is to break the final part of the journey into two more legs – one from Spain to Egypt and then Egypt to Abu Dhabi where it all started.
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