A solar-powered airplane completed a groundbreaking flight across the Pacific Ocean last week, breaking several aviation records. The pilots also tested the limits of human endurance, demonstrating the body’s capacity to stay awake and alert for 72 hours.
The Solar Impulse 2 touched down in Mountain View California, having completed a three-day non-stop flight across the Pacific Ocean without using a single drop of fuel. The trip is a significant milestone for renewable energy. Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg set out to complete the first around-the-world trip in a plane powered only by solar energy. Bertrand has big ideas for the future of renewable energy. “If an airplane has succeeded to fly day and night without fuel, then we can power our world on clean energy,” he said.
The Solar Impulse 2 landed on Saturday night after taking off from Hawaii 62 hours earlier. Piccard and Borschberg have taken turns flying the plane since March of 2015, when the two left from Abu Dhabi. The aircraft is built primarily from carbon fiber and is powered by 17,248 solar cells on its wings. The solar cells then recharge four lithium polymer batteries. At night, the plane runs on stored solar power.
The plane weighs only 5,070 pounds, which is almost 200 times lighter than a Boeing 747 and roughly the equivalent of a mid-size truck. The Impulse’s maximum speed is 90 miles an hour, which is around one-seventh of the Boeing 747.
In 2015, airplane completed a five-day flight from Japan to Hawaii, breaking several aviation records. The117 hour and 52 minutes flight over the Ocean set a world record for longest solo flight ever. It also set records for longest distance and duration by a solar-powered plane.
The Piccard family has a tradition of exploration and innovation. The grandfather, Auguste, invented the pressurized capsule and completed the first flight in the stratosphere. The father, Jacques, set the absolute deep-sea diving record. Bertrand previously completed the first non-stop, around-the-world hot air balloon record.
The physical demands of the flight are significant. Piccard slept only 20 minutes at a time inside the plane’s cockpit, which had no heat or air conditioning. He had to maintain constant contact with the plane’s control center, which is based in Europe. Piccard uses self-hypnosis to keep his energy up. He also uses heating pads inside his shoes and gloves for warmth.
Borschberg, who completed the Japan to Hawaii leg, kept himself aware by using yoga and meditation. The Pacific legs of the journey are the most dangerous because of the lack of emergency landing sites.
On earth Day, Piccard had a video phone call with the United Nations as several countries signed the Paris climate agreement. “While you are making history, we have also made history today,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said. “More than 175 countries signed the climate change agreement.”
“Thank you for your leadership and inspiration,” he added later. “I wish you a smooth flight. You are leading us all into an exciting new era.”
The Solar Impulse 2 landed in the Bay area, providing the world with amazing photographs of the plane gliding past the Golden Gate Bridge. The pilots are now over halfway to completing their trip around the world, with upcoming stops planned for the midwest, New York, Europe and potentially north Africa.