After breaking the record for longest flight without refueling, Solar Impulse is grounded in Hawaii. The solar-powered plane’s batteries were damaged during the trek from Japan to Hawaii, and it is expected that it will not be able to fly again until next year.
While this is bad news for the Solar Impulse team as well as fans, the project has already accomplished much of what it set out to do.
The pilot, Andre Borschberg, who flew from Nagoya to Kalaeloa at the beginning of this month, broke the record not only for longest unrefueled flight among solar-powered planes, but broke the record among planes fueled by fossil fuels as well.
During the 7,200km, 118-hour flight, the lithium-ion battery was damaged when it overheated. The battery, while working correctly, was surrounded by too much insulation. Engineers working on the battery hoped to make the repairs quickly enough to finish the flight this year, but will not be able to work quickly enough.
However, there is good news for Solar Impulse, as the University of Hawaii and the United States Department of Transportation have agreed to let the plane remain at the Kalaeloa airport until the repairs are complete and it is ready to continue on to the western United States. Hopefully this will be possible by April.
The plane will then undergo test flights to ensure the safety of the pilots for the rest of their round-the-world journey. The last few legs may be especially hard on the vehicle, as there will be dramatic weather changes as it crosses the United States, the Atlantic, and finally returns to Abu Dhabi, UAE.
By breaking the record during their Pacific flight, the Solar Impulse team has already demonstrated what they set out to do: that solar energy is capable of accomplishing great things. So, don’t let the news get you down, Solar Impulse will be back soon and better than it was before.