The world’s first solar energy plane landed in Kalaeloa Airport around six AM this morning after flying all the way from Japan across the Pacific.
Andre Borschberg, the pilot, reportedly made the landing very gently. He has gotten almost no sleep this week, but he has just broken the record for the longest manned, solar-powered flight.
Borschberg spent 118 hours in the air. He has also broken the record for piloting the longest solo un-refuellled flight. He was met in Hawaii by his Swiss flying partner, Bertrand Piccard, who will pilot the plane to Phoenix, Arizona as the next leg of the journey. Piccard and Borschberg are attempting to fly around the world with Solar Impulse and originally took off in March from Abu Dhabi, UAE. After Phoenix, the plane will cross the United States to New York and then cross the Atlantic to return to Abu Dhabi.
The solar energy plane is scheduled to take off again soon. However, meteorologists have difficulty scheduling the flights. Solar Impulse is made out of lightweight materials and only has a 72m wingspan, so any unforeseen weather could have dire consequences for the pilot. In fact, the plane was stuck in Nanjing, China for five whole weeks before attempting to cross the ocean.
Also, Borschberg was forced to land in Nagoya, Japan after the first day he attempted to fly out over the Pacific because of a cold front. He was forced to wait a month before being allowed to fly again. Even with these precautions, he reportedly experienced some very nerve-wracking turbulence and encountered two weather events during the long journey from Japan to Hawaii.
Solar Impulse is covered in 17,000 photovoltaic cells. The solar energy plane uses the energy to power the motor directly or is stored in lithium-ion batteries so that the plane can fly through the night. Solar Impulse’s design is not intended for future use on a mass scale, but is considered a demonstration of the current capabilities of solar power.