Covering 35,000km over the next five months, Solar Impulse 2 is out to prove that alternative energy can take you around the world.
Taking to the sky on March 9 from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, Solar Impulse 2 will now spend the next five months attempting a feat that’s never been done before: flying around the world using only the power of the sun.
That’s quite a long time to be up in the air, and anything can happen. But for the mission’s crew – especially the two pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg who have to share a cockpit measuring a mere 3.8 cubic metres, it’s a gamble they’re willing to wage to gain public awareness and support for renewable energy.
“Miracles can be achieved with renewables such as solar power,” says Swiss pilot Piccard, who also made the world’s first non-stop circumnavigation of the globe in a balloon in 1999. “We want to show we can fly day and night in an aircraft without a drop of fuel.”
Twelve years in the making, Solar Impulse 2 weighs only 2,300kg – about as much as a family car – but its wings, measuring 72m across, are as wide as the largest passenger airliner’s. While the plane’s lightness means it requires less energy to stay up in the air, its huge wings give it extra lift and also the space to hold more than 17,000 solar cells.
For its maiden sojourn circumnavigating the globe, the plane will fly for approximately 25 flight days broken up into 12 legs at speeds between 50km and 100km per hour.
It will make stopovers in India, Myanmar and China before crossing the Pacific Ocean and flying across the US and southern Europe to arrive back in Abu Dhabi sometime in early August.
Solar Impulse 2’s team is confident the plane will successfully complete its mission, with very good reason. Its first version, Solar Impulse 1, which was rolled out in 2009, had already broken records for heights and distances travelled by a manned solar plane.
If you'd like to track the plane's progress as it winds its way around the world, check out the plane's website that tracks its location and other vital statistics in realtime. – Reuters