Around The World On A Solar Plane

Mar 14, 2015 By Anita R
Anita R's picture

For Bertrand Piccard, extreme adventure is part of his DNA.

Bertrand's grandfather was the first to explore the Earth's stratosphere in a pressurized balloon. His father, Jacques Piccard traveled to the deepest point on our planet - known as the Mariana trench in 1960 (we had written here).

Bertrand has already circled the globe in a non-stop balloon flight in 1999. He had his eyes set on yet another mission - to circumnavigate the world in a solar plane by 2015. Bertrand is best suited for this task. He holds the record for the first inter-continental flight as well as the first transatlantic flight in a solar-powered plane. 

Last week, this dream became a reality. The Solar Impulse 2 (SI2) set off on its flight to circumnavigate the world, from Dubai. It made its first halt at Muscat and later at Gujarat, India on its journey. 

The Inspiration

While the work on the Solar Impulse is cutting-edge, the idea for the project was developed over a decade ago. When Piccard circumnavigated the world in a hot-air balloon in 1999, he was shocked that he had used over 3 tons of fuel. He promised himself that one day, he would make a fuel-free journey around the world.

As you know, fossil fuels are a non-renewable resource. However, we humans are consuming it at a rapid pace to meet our cooking needs, travel, heating, and lighting. Solar energy is one of the options that is being extensively explored for energy. But tapping and storing this energy for later use is still quite new -- and almost not heard of for travel. Solar Impulse is in the process of revolutionizing just that.

Powering The Solar Impulse 2 (SI2)

To ensure that the aircraft is fuel efficient, it has to be lightweight. The SI2 aircraft is constructed with carbon-fiber and has a huge wingspan. It is wider than a Boeing 747 jet to accommodate all the 17,000 solar cells that will generate power to propel the four electric motors for the aircraft. Despite the load, the vehicle weighs a mere 2.3 tons! 

During the day, the solar cells will recharge lithium batteries. These batteries will keep the propellers turning through the night. Curious about how the plane gets the energy from the sun? Don't miss our article here. 

However, unlike the flight across the U.S. last year, the difficulties and complexities of a global flight will be far greater. It can take about five days and nights without a stopover just to cross the Pacific. The aircraft can accommodate just one pilot. A reclining seat and a little room for exercise are probably the only luxuries for the lone person at the controls.

If successful, Piccard will go down in history as the man who ushered in an era of solar planes!