Future flight without fuel

by • September 6, 2016 • News and EventsComments (0)860

To be successful into the future you’re going to need the right technology, a great vision, the right team and an attitude that doesn’t know what quitting even means.

The Solar Impulse 2 project has all of these attributes rolled up into one perfectly executed success. For those who haven’t been following, the Solar Impulse 2 is an experimental aeroplane that was built to travel around the world (or more specifically, 42,000 kilometres) without any fuel.

Astoundingly, its mission was successful. It’s hard to miss its message to the entire world. There are alternatives for our pollution-ridden planet.


The plane was designed to be exceptionally light (weighing just 2,300 kg and made mostly of carbon fibre) and covered with an abundance of solar panels (That would be 17,248 panels for those who are taking notes) that work to recharge four lithium polymer batteries. At night the energy stored in the batteries propelled the electric motors that kept the plane airborne. To keep it as light as possible, the cockpit is roughly the size of a phone booth pushed on its side, accommodating just one pilot. The final result looks rather odd –  the plane has a wingspan wider than a Boeing 747 but it is nearly 200 times lighter. Its top speed is an elegant 140 km/hr, but for most of the flight, it would cruise at 50kmh at a height of just 1.7 kilometres above the ground.


It’s hard to come up with a greater vision than the ambitious goal to fly around the world without the use of even a drop of fuel. Imagine the excitement when in March 2015 the plane took to the air from the United Arab Emirates powered only by the energy of the sun. The entire project was privately financed and built by a Swiss-based engineering firm. The dream reached fruition sixteen months later when the aeroplane landed back in Abu Dhabi, making aviation history.

Solar Impulse 2’s worldwide tour included stops in India, China, Japan, Italy, Spain and several U.S. locations, including Hawaii, San Francisco, Phoenix, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and New York. The last of the trip’s seventeen legs took the aircraft from Cairo to Abu Dhabi, a total of 2,700 kilometres in a little over 48 hours.

Circumnavigating the globe without any fuel wasn’t the only record that the Solar Impulse 2 broke. The longest leg, an 8,900-kilometre flight from Japan to Hawaii, lasted some 118 hours and saw one pilot (Borschberg) break the world record for the longest uninterrupted solo flight duration. In all, Solar Impulse 2 broke a total of 19 official aviation records.


It takes a special team to undertake a 16-month, seventeen-stage adventure. The role of the pilot was shared throughout the trip by two Swiss men, Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg. It was these two men who had piloted the project from the start. With only room for one pilot at a time, they alternated shifts.  Borschberg was in the cockpit when Solar Impulse 2 took off for the first leg of its record-breaking flight. Logging up a combined 500 flight hours along the way, one wonders how they kept themselves awake. He would allow himself irregular naps of no more than 20-minutes at a time, sometimes doing yoga in the small cockpit.

Piccard was in the cockpit at journey’s end, stopping the plane on the exact spot that it had started its around-the-world journey in March 2015.The trip was fraught with challenges. En route from Japan, the plane sustained battery damage, which ultimately kept the aircraft grounded in Hawaii for nine months. Together, the two pilots spent a combined 500 flight hours in the tiny cockpit.


When he exited the aeroplane for the final time, Piccard said to a crowd of onlookers: “The future is clean. The future is you. The future is now. Let’s take it further.”

Borschberg says that what is next is likely to be solar powered drones.

“We will be using this technology to develop electric aeroplanes in the futures and develop solar drones that can fly in the stratosphere for six months replacing satellites”.

Piccard and Borschberg hope to have their drones in the air within the next three years.

“We have travelled 40,000 kilometres without fuel. Now it’s your turn to take it further,” Piccard said. “We have enough solutions, enough technologies. We should never accept the world to be polluted only because people are scared to think in another way.”

The right technology, a great vision, the right team and an attitude that doesn’t know what quitting even means.


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