While rest of the world continues to enjoy and use the Western World’s inventions of the last 500 years, the Western World continues to push the envelope. This time two Swiss pioneer, Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg are taking up the new challenge after 12 years of preparation, complex designs and thousands of hours of training. Yes, the first solar flight around the Earth.
André Borschberg is a Swiss businessman and pilot. An engineer by education and a graduate of the MIT Sloan School of Management has passion for aviation. His interests in innovative solutions have led him to team up with Bertrand Piccard who is a Swiss psychiatrist and balloonist.
The Swiss duo unveiled last week Solar Impulse 2, a revolutionary aircraft designed to achieve the longest ever flight in the history of aviation in terms of duration for a single pilot. It will attempt to fly non-stop for 120 hours at a top speed of 88 miles per hour over oceans and continents without a drop of fuel. Made of carbon fiber, Solar Impulse 2 is the evolution of a prototype that has smashed several aviation records in recent years, including the first fully solar-powered overnight flight lasting 26 hours in 2010.
The upgraded plane has a huge wingspan of 72 meters, wider than a standard Boeing 747, and weighs only 2,300 kilos — that’s about as heavy as a family car. Its wings are covered with a skin of 17,000 solar cells that supply four electric motors with renewable energy, while its custom-made lithium batteries are able to store enough solar energy throughout the day to keep the ultralight plane flying at night.
Inside the airplane’s tiny cockpit, measuring about one and a half the interior volume of a 2013 Mini Cooper, every detail has been calculated to achieve maximum energy efficiency while ensuring the pilot can live there for several days. Its structure is surrounded by high-density foam to protect the pilot from temperatures ranging from -40°C +40°C in the absence of heating and air conditioning.
There is enough space for food, water and oxygen supplies, while a multipurpose seat, which comes packed with a parachute and a life-raft, functions as a toilet. It also reclines to allow the captain to perform physical exercises to keep blood circulation going as well as take a nap — but only for up to 20 minutes.
Piccard and Borschberg are now set to begin test flights in mid-May before embarking on their 35,000-kilometer or 21,748 miles journey in March 2015. Starting from the Gulf region in the Middle East, the two pilots will then fly over India, Myanmar and China, cross the Pacific, the United States and the Atlantic with the aim of returning to their departure point.
Each stop on their itinerary will last for several days as the Solar Impulse team wants to organize public events to raise awareness about a more sustainable way of life. “This is really the message we want to spread,” says Piccard. “With clean technology, with renewable energy we can achieve incredible things without any fuel at all.”
Note: Excerpts from article by Teo Kermeliotis of CNN