Solar Impulse made history today with the successful landing of their solar-powered plane in the Hawaiian islands after a record breaking trans-Pacific flight, Reuters reports. Swiss pilot Andre Borschberg flew the fuel-free Solar Impulse 2 plane solo nonstop day and night for 120 hours from Nagoya, Japan to Hawaii, landing at Kalaeloa, near Honolulu on the island of Oahu. The landmark accomplishment in solar-powered flight history is just the latest leg in a greater mission to circumnavigate the globe in an effort to promote the future of clean technology.
The Solar Impulse 2 not only grabbed the record for longest nonstop solo flight to cross the Pacific Ocean from previous record holder Steve Fossett who piloted the Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer in 2006, but also became the first aircraft to fly around the clock sans any type of fuel other than the sun’s energy. The five day solo journey stretched the limits of human endurance in sleep deprivation. Borschberg was only able to sleep 20 minutes at a time in a tiny, unheated, unpressurized cockpit during which time he put the plane on autopilot, according to Reuters.
Although the original intention was to fly from Nanjing, China to Hawaii, inclement weather diverted the plane to Japan to wait for more favorable flying conditions, according to FOX News. The record-setting flight took off from Japan last Sunday and landed on Oahu at 5:55 a.m. HAS (11:55 EDT). Borschberg’s military training undoubtedly came in handy in facing the physical and mental challenges of keeping the solar plane aloft in foul weather conditions while battling exhaustion from the lack of sleep.
The Solar Impulse 2 is constructed of carbon fiber and the wing contains 17,248 solar cells to keep the four motors and four lithium polymer batteries constantly supplied with renewable energy, FOX News explains. The batteries store enough energy to keep the plane in the air during the nighttime hours. The solar-powered craft averages 30 to 40 mph depending on wind speed.
The solar-powered circumnavigation mission began March 9, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, with legs of the journey touching down in Oman, India, Myanmar and Nanjing before making the uplanned detour to Japan. Borschberg has alternated piloting duties with Solar Impulse Chairman and visionary explorer Bertrand Piccard who designed the plane. Next up for the Solar Impulse 2 is Phoenix, AZ, then New York before attempting a trans-Atlantic crossing to southern Europe or North Africa on its return to Abu Dhabi with both pilots aboard to share the final triumph.
Whatever lies in the future of Solar Impulse drive to promote clean technology, today was a day to celebrate the “historic moment” that was made possible by 12 years of dedication and hard work by the project’s design team. Project head Peter Frei rejoiced and congratulated Borschberg in a live online broadcast from the mission control center in Monaco, calling the achievement, “unbelievable” and said it was difficult to imagine the complexity of pulling off such a feat, according to Reuters.
Piccard shared with FOX News that his goal for this mission is to send a message to governments that clean technologies are a viable replacement for pollutants. He said that the successes of the Solar Impulse 2 aircraft proves that “clean technology can achieve [the] impossible” making renewable energy a realistic option for future developments in both ground and air transportation.
By Elinore Ruth Van Donge