Last year, the Solar Impulse made history by flying across the continental US from the Golden Gate to the Statue of Liberty. It was not because it was the first solar plane to do so, but because it was the first solar plane to do so by flying day and night.
The 63 m wide carbon fiber plane, covered with 12,000 silicon solar cells was able to do so with the help of state-of-the-art batteries that stored enough power for the night journey.
Next year, they are setting out to make a new record – traveling around the world in much, much less than 80 days, in 25 days and nights in fact, though not continuously. Its two Swiss pilots, Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg, will take turns at flying the plane the size of a 747 jumbo jet on its 33,600 km journey that will take it from the Persian Gulf, then east towards India and China and the United States before making its way to either Europe or Africa to complete its circumnavigation of the globe.
It’s already proven that the airplane could do it, the plane completed the transcontinental journey last year in the dead of night with a broken wing. The flight time during that trip was 105 hours and 41 minutes clocked during both day and night. This was necessary because it had to take off and land during off-peak times as it was traversing some of the busiest air traffic routes in the world.
Since they’ve proven that the plane has unlimited endurance, they are now trying to push the envelope of human endurance. There are no copilots on board on the single-seater plane that will have to fly non-stop for five days and nights to make ocean crossings. On relatively shorter journeys lasting 24 hours, the pilots will go without sleep. During the longer trips, they will have 20 minute catnaps spread over three or four hours in between, when the plane is flying over unpopulated areas. Since the cabin is not pressurized, they will have to do so with the comfort of an oxygen mask.
To help them on their journey, the airplane was equipped with a system that alerts the pilot if the plane veers off course. Furthermore, the pilots will use yoga and special breathing exercises they learned under an Indian yogi and self hypnosis as taught by a Swiss medical clinic. They also had special food prepared for the trip. Another upgrade of the plane came in the form of a built-in toilet to replace the bottles that they used in previous trips.
The project hopes to spread the message that renewable energy and energy-efficiency measures not only work, but they can be profitable and create much-needed jobs. The flight is planned to coincide with the United Nations conference on climate change in Paris to be held next year.
They plan to go sleepless for days on end in not very comfortable conditions so that the rest of the world will stretch their minds. “We hope to have more people joining us,” says Borschberg, a former Swiss air force member. “Our goal isn’t a revolution in aviation. Our goal is a revolution in people’s minds about clean technology.”