Solar-powered plane embarks on round-the-world flight

Two Swiss pilots are flying a completely solar-powered plane around the globe to demonstrate the importance of renewable energy.

Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters
Swiss pilots Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard (L) smile before flying the Solar Impulse 2, at Al Bateen airport in Abu Dhabi, March 9, 2015. Piccard and Borschberg, attempting the first flight around the world in a solar-powered plane began the maiden leg of their voyage on Monday, the mission's official website said. Solar Impulse 2 took off from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates en route to the Omani capital Muscat at the start of a five-month journey of 35,000 km (22,000 miles) organised to focus the world's attention on sustainable energy.

The Solar Impulse 2 (Si2), a completely fuelless solar-powered plane, took off from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates this morning, beginning the first leg of its round-the-world flight.

Swiss pilots André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard co-founded Solar Impulse in 2005 and, if their mission is successful, they will be the first to make a powered flight around the globe entirely with renewable energy.

Although it minimizes fuel costs, the Solar Impulse 2 isn’t the speediest method of travel. The craft landed at its first destination, Muscat, Oman, 10 hours after departing from the UAE, a flight that typically takes a little over an hour on a commercial jet.

However, the purpose of the trip is not to sell solar powered planes, but to demonstrate what is possible with renewable energy.

“When the Apollo astronauts went to the moon, it wasn't to launch tourism on the moon and open hotels and make money,” the plane’s pilot Bertrand Piccard told WIRED in December 2014. “It was to inspire the world.”

The pilots want to encourage replacing polluting technologies with efficient ones, and persuade politicians, celebrities, and private citizens to “confront the Conference on Climate Change of the United Nations,” which will take place in Paris in December, according to the AP. 

Si2 is a lightweight, single-seat plane made of carbon fiber and 17,248 solar cells, which supply the plane’s lithium polymer batteries with renewable energy, according to the AP. While its 236-foot wingspan is larger than that of a Boeing 747, the Si2 only weighs 5,070 lbs., about as much as a minivan.

Borschberg and Piccard will switch off manning the single-seat plane during each stop on their itinerary, which tentatively includes Oman, India, China, Myanmar, Hawaii, Arizona, New York, and Morocco, before returning to Abu Dhabi.

Some of the flights will require days on end in the air. Borschberg and Piccard have been practicing yoga and self hypnosis so they will be mentally strong enough to handle to the solitude and unusual sleep schedule – twelve 20-minute power naps each day, rather than an a continuous eight hours.

Neither are strangers to potentially dangerous adventures, however, Borschberg was fighter pilot and Piccard was part of the first team to circle the earth in a balloon without landing, according to CNN.

Borschberg flew the first leg of the trip while Piccard will fly the last – and each will be tackling one ocean crossing.

The plane is currently in Muscat, Oman, but is only expected to to remain there for a few hours before Piccard takes over to the Si2 to Ahmedabad, India.

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