Solar Impulse: Innovative Strides in Solar Power Technology
Throughout human history, there have been visionaries with the desire, dream, and drive to tackle the unknown and leave their mark on history. Think of the early Spanish explorers, Louis and Clark, Sir Edmund Hillary, and Neil Armstrong, to name a few.
But no such list would be complete without the names of Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg.
Okay, they are not exactly household names when it comes to explorers, but they’re both blazing new trails as the founders, pilots and the driving force behind Solar Impulse, the first airplane to fly both night and day without using any fuel. And now they’re in the middle of attempting the first “Round-the-World Solar Flight” – all to prove that renewable energies can achieve the impossible and change the world.
Bertrand Piccard is no stranger to aeronautical adventures. As a doctor, psychiatrist and explorer, he was the first to successfully make a non-stop, round-the-world flight in a balloon.
André Borschberg, his co-innovator, is an engineer by profession, having graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in management science. He is a professional airplane and helicopter pilot, as well as a trained fighter pilot. André also serves as the CEO of Solar Impulse.
While both have the vision and skills to make the round-the-world solar flight a reality, they’re not working alone. The Solar Impulse team consists of 90 people, including 30 engineers, 25 technicians and 22 people involved in mission control. And that doesn’t include the hundred partners and advisers who support the endeavor both financially and technologically.
So what kind of plane is the Solar Impulse 2?
Powered only by the sun, Solar Impulse 2 boasts 17,000 solar panels that charge a one-ton lithium battery, which powers the aircraft at night. The plane is wider than a Boeing 747, but tipping the scales at around 5,000 pounds, it weighs less than an SUV!
Cruising at 88 miles an hour, the plane could fly forever, save for the fact that the pilots have to land every few days to restock their own supplies. The cockpit is only large enough for one pilot at a time, so Borschberg and Piccard take turns running the controls. Only enough essentials are kept on board in an effort to reduce weight.
What’s remarkable for the pilots is that they are flying in an unheated and unpressurized cockpit. Temperature extremes run from -40 degrees centigrade to +40 degrees centigrade. Their daily diet includes 6.2 pounds of food, 84.4 ounces of water and 33 ounces of sports drink.
The historic flight took off from Abu Dhabi back on March 9th. The journey has included stops in Oman, India, Myanmar, and China. After crossing the Pacific Ocean via Hawaii, Solar Impulse 2 will fly across the U.S., stopping in three locations – Phoenix, an un-determined Midwest location, and – get ready — New York City!
After crossing the Atlantic, the final legs of the adventure will include a stopover in Southern Europe or North Africa before arriving back in Abu Dhabi in August.
The ambitious goal of Solar Impulse is to pioneer new and cleaner technologies while bringing attention to how renewable energy can build and enhance our lives, as well as improve the planet. If you’re part of our community, you know this is what we stand for.