Around the world on wings of sunshine.
Around the world on wings of sunshine.
When Icarus flew too high with wings made of wax and feathers, he quickly discovered the limits of his mythological technology. We all know what happened next. The sun melted the wax, the wings disintegrated and Icarus plummeted to his death into a sea that bears his name.
Conversely, the Solar Impulse 2 (Si2) dared to fly higher and higher – at times higher than 28,000+ ft.1 – with wings made of carbon-fibre sheets lighter than paper and photovoltaic cells the width of the human hair. Fully embracing the power of the sun, Si2 not only avoided Icarus’ fate, it made history as the first aircraft to circumnavigate the globe without using a drop of fossil fuel and emitting zero emissions in the process.
It’s amazing what a few thousand years of technological advances can do for you.
On July 26, 2016, at 2:05 a.m. CEST, Solar Impulse 2 touched down in Abu Dhabi, UAE, bringing an official end to its global odyssey. It was here, some 16 months earlier, that Si2 had rolled down the runway and lifted off into the early morning air.
On gossamer wings of sunshine, Solar Impulse 2 set out to prove that it could take on the world.
From country to country, continent to continent, across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, Si2 flew during both daylight and darkness – some 26,000+ miles – eventually returning to this desert kingdom made rich by oil, demonstrating the remarkable possibilities of clean technologies powered by renewable energy.
The aircraft might have been powered by the sun, but ultimately, this was a journey fueled by imagination and the desire to inspire humanity with the hope of a sustainable world.
“Solar Impulse was not built to carry passengers, but to carry messages. What we can achieve in the air, anyone can do on the ground. Let’s replace old polluting devices with modern and efficient technologies. Our world needs to find new ways of improving the quality of human life. Clean technologies and renewables are part of the solution.”
– initiator and visionary behind Solar Impulse
The Solar Impulse 2 is not the first aircraft to be powered exclusively by sunshine. But it certainly is the largest – with a wingspan 11ft. longer than a Boeing 747-8. And yet, at about the weight of a Nissan Leaf, it’s a minimum of 231 tons lighter than a 747.2 Gossamer wings, indeed.
The single-passenger airplane was alternately piloted by Bertrand Piccard (psychiatrist, explorer, balloon pilot, and initiator and Chairman of Solar Impulse) and André Borschberg (engineer, entrepreneur, fighter pilot, Co-founder and CEO). Just a pair of average, ordinary, global-circumnavigating guys from Switzerland out to turn the world upside down and point the way to a sustainable future.
Si2 set numerous aviation records on its journey, and although grounded for 10 months in Hawaii due to battery damage, proved that the team of 80 engineers and technicians under André Borschberg’s leadership had achieved a remarkable milestone in optimizing new technologies and reducing energy consumption. The proof is in the record long-distance flight from Japan to Hawaii, when Borschberg piloted the plane for 5 days and 5 nights, travelling more than 5,500 miles – setting the world record for the longest non-stop solo flight.
All of this, on sunshine alone.
Will the technological advances pioneered by Si2 find their way into our lives? How far will we travel The Road Electric in the future? Perhaps thousands of miles, instead of a few hundred?3
As Solar Impulse 2 has vividly revealed, the the sky is not the limit. It’s our willingness to embrace change.
All photos, videos and graphic images ©SOLARIMPULSE courtesy of SOLARIMPULSE.
1. [Solar Impulse 2 has an unpressurized, unheated cabin. Pilots use oxygen and wear clothing made of nylon fibers that stabilize body temperature by re-injecting infrared heat back to the surface of the skin when it’s cold, and also prevent the pilot from sweating during periods of intense heat.]
2. [The Solar Impulse 2 weighs 3,527 lbs. a Nissan Leaf weighs 3,391 lbs.]
3. [I barely get 65 miles of range in my 2012 Nissan Leaf.]