Swiss explorer and psychiatrist Bernard Picard and Swiss businessman and pilot André Borschberg have made a remarkable advancement in the use of solar powered airplanes, one which could have dramatic consequences for the future of flight and for the environment.
Earlier this year they completed the first around the world trip, using an airplane powered entirely by renewable energies.
On the 23rd July the touched down in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates following a 48 hr. 37 min journey from Cairo, Egypt. It was the last of seventeen legs that saw them fly across the globe over a period of fifteen months. The plane crossed both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans using no fossil fuel and has spent more than 23 days’ total in the air.
Following one of his journey’s legs, an epic 3-day travel across the Pacific Ocean in a plane powered entirely by solar power, Picccard told CNN;
“It’s a new era. It’s not science fiction. It’s today. It exists and clean technologies can do the impossible.”
The solar aircraft has the wingspan of a Boeing 747, but weighs around the same as an average SUV.
It weighs a mere 2.3 tonnes, roughly the same weight as a large family car, has a cruising speed of between 34 and 62 mph and can climb to around 28,000 ft.
Also planes batteries were charged during daylight. The batteries accounted for a quarter of the plane’s entire weight. The pilots also climbed to 29,000 feet during the day and glided down to 5,000 feet at night, to conserve power.
They would alternate piloting duties, often spending up to five days in the unheated and unpressurised cabin.
The Solar Impulse expedition was intended to show how clean technologies can be used to potentially change the world. The plane currently can’t carry passengers, and travels at the speed of a car, but the Swiss adventurers have used it to illustrate the potential.
Piccard was able to fly across the Pacific Ocean from Japan to San Francisco nonstop for 62 hours without the need for any fossil fuels.
Think of the impact that harnessing solar power could have for the environment. No more need for dirty fossil fuels. Less damage to the environment or dependency on oil producing regimes.
Speaking to the Guardian from the cockpit, shortly before landing after his final voyage Piccard admitted he was feeling emotional as he came to the end of his journey. He said;
“It is a very, very special moment – it has been 15 years that I am working on this goal. I hope people will understand that it is not just a first in the history of aviation, but also a first in the history of energy”